Much has been written about Rachel Jeantel, routinely described as the prosecution’s “star witness” in the George Zimmerman trial, almost as if she were some sort of new-generation civil-rights icon. Jeantel has been variously praised by liberals for her street smarts, and lamented by conservatives as emblematic of the tragic detours of the Great Society. Both agree that in some sense she is a victim of the social forces that for decades now have been forging an underclass.
Perhaps — but from her testimony and her post-trial interviews for hire, we learned that Ms. Jeantel was confident and savvy about using electronic media while at the same time apparently illiterate, given that she could not read “cursive.” Yet whose fault is it that she preferred to post obscenities rather than scroll over to a book? Jeantel’s worldview appears anti-liberal to the core. She admitted that her original testimony under oath was not fully accurate: Trayvon Martin, we now learn, wanted to “whoop ass” and so threw the first blow against Zimmerman. Yet Jeantel did not say that at the trial; she was quite willing to see the defendant convicted on false testimony.
Jeantel was unapologetic about her use of “retarded” as a putdown, her preposterous homophobic accusations that George Zimmerman could have been some sort of crazed gay rapist, and her casual use of slurs like “bitch,” “nigga,” and “crazy ass cracker.” True, Jeantel is impoverished and no doubt “underserved” by a host of government agencies entrusted with providing support to the less well off. Yet by both past American and present global standards, she is not victimized in the sense of suffering hunger, unaddressed health problems, or lack of access to technology.
In today’s topsy-turvy world, we are to emphasize the untruth that Ms. Jeantel is poor in the Dickensian sense, while ignoring the truth that her matter-of-fact worldview is by contemporary liberal benchmarks homophobic, racist, and misogynistic — and entirely contrary to the race-blind meritocracy that a much poorer, much more heroic generation of civil-rights leaders once sacrificed for.
From 1619 to 1865, African-Americans in a large region of North America were enslaved. For the century following the Civil War, they were deprived in the South of civil rights that were supposed to be accorded citizens of the United States, and elsewhere were often subjected to insidious racism. In the last half-century, a vast private effort has sought to change the American psyche while a vast public one has used government resources to attempt to redress racist legacies. These are elemental issues of good and evil that are at the heart of the human experience and must continue to be addressed — but not in the manner of our era of psychodramatic trivialization.
Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Postmodern Angst”, National Review, 2013-08-13
August 14, 2013
August 11, 2013
Mark Steyn on the trial of Major Hasan for “workplace violence”:
On December 7, 1941, the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked. Three years, eight months, and eight days later, the Japanese surrendered. These days, America’s military moves at a more leisurely pace. On November 5, 2009, another U.S. base, Fort Hood, was attacked — by one man standing on a table, screaming “Allahu akbar!” and opening fire. Three years, nine months, and one day later, his court-martial finally got under way.
He’s admirably upfront about who and what he is — a “Soldier of Allah,” as he put on his business card. On Tuesday, he admitted he was a traitor who had crossed over from “the bad side” (America’s) to “the good side” (Islam’s). He has renounced his U.S. citizenship and its effete protections such as workplace-violence disability leave. He professes loyalty to America’s enemies. He says, “I am the shooter.” He helpfully informs us that that’s his gun. In this week’s one-minute statement, he spoke more honestly and made more sense than Obama, Gates, Casey, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals, two judges, the prosecution and defense lawyers, and mountains of bureaucratic reports and media coverage put together.
But poor old Hasan can say “Yup, I did it” all he wants; what does he know?
Unlike the Zimmerman trial, Major Hasan’s has not excited the attention of the media. Yet it is far more symbolic of the state of America than the Trayvon Martin case, in which superannuated race hucksters attempted to impose a half-century-old moth-eaten Klan hood on a guy who’s a virtual one-man melting pot. The response to Nidal Hasan helps explain why, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, this war is being lost — because it cannot be won because, increasingly, it cannot even be acknowledged. Which helps explain why it now takes the U.S. military longer to prosecute a case of “workplace violence” than it did to win World War Two.
August 6, 2013
From Zero Hedge:
Undated documents discovered by Reuters show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.
“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” is one law professor’s response to the fact that a secretive DEA unit is funneling wiretap, informant, and telephone database information to authorities across the nation in order to launch investigations of Americans (targeting common criminals, primarily drug dealers), “It is one thing to create special rules for national security, ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
Agents are instructed to use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by [the secret DEA source],” and as the documents reveal — “remember that the utilization of [data] cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function.”
Stunningly, after an arrest was made, agents then created a “parallel construction” to suggest the information secretly gathered was stumbled up during the course of the investigation — “It’s just like laundering money — you work it backwards to make it clean.” One recently retired federal gent noted, “It was an amazing tool; our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”
July 24, 2013
Radley Balko looks behind the scripted talking points to get at the actual data they’re ignoring:
Civil rights leaders and progressive activists have cited Zimmerman’s acquittal and the proliferation of robust self-defense laws as evidence of a “war on black men” — or, similarly, that it’s now “open season on black men.” Meanwhile, Zimmerman supporters and many on the political right have used the case to bring up old discussions of black-on-black murders in places like Chicago, and to argue that violence in black America is spiraling out of control. Both positions are cynical, and both tend to pit black and white America against one another.
But both are also wrong on the facts.
First, about the alleged “war on black men.” The argument here is that laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” are encouraging white vigilantism, and moving white people to shoot and kill black people at the slightest provocation. But there just isn’t any data to support the contention. Black homicides have been falling since the mid-1990s (as have all homicides). Moreover, according to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, more than 90 percent of black murder victims are killed by other black people. And if we look at interracial murder, there are about twice as many black-on-white murders as the other way around, and that ratio has held steady for decades.
However, it also isn’t true that black America is growing increasingly violent. Again, black homicides, like all homicides, are in a steep, 20-year decline. In fact, the rates at which blacks both commit and are victims of homicide have shown sharper declines than those of whites. It’s true that Chicago has had an unusually violent last few years, but this is an anomaly among big American cities. The 2012 murder rate in Washington, D.C., for example, hit a 50-year low. Violent crime in New York and Los Angeles is also falling to levels we haven’t seen in decades.
To get to the more sensational conclusion, the article considers interracial homicide as a percentage of total homicides. And indeed, measured that way the “rate” of interracial murder has gone up. But it’s an odd way to measure. The vast, vast majority of murders are intraracial. And, as noted, those murders have been dropping considerably. The interracial murder rate has been dropping, too. According to the Scripps Howard review, the raw number of black-on-white and white-on-black murders combined was about the same in 2010 as it was in the early 1980s. But the United States population has grown considerably in that time, from 227 million in 1980, to 315 million today. So if you measure it the way all other crime is measured, the interracial murder rate has dropped, not increased.
July 22, 2013
Laurie Penny explains why the renewed urge to blame pornography for social ills is misplaced:
We’ve been here before. The debate about the causes of sexual violence has been going on since the feminist porn wars of the 1980s, which were both more and less exciting than they sound and involved a great deal of shouting in draughty meeting rooms. The internet is the current culprit, but the arguments against explicit material are exactly the same as they were when the main smut delivery systems were rental videos and grubby mags. In 1981, the writer Ellen Willis noted that “if anti-porn feminists see pornography as a brutal exercise of predatory male sexuality, a form of (and incitement to) violence against women, the right also associates pornography with violence and with rampant male lust broken loose from the saving constraints of God and Family”. Today, the same social conservatives who are cutting child benefit and closing domestic violence shelters still borrow freely from feminist rhetoric about exploitation of women and children when it suits them.
The worst thing about this debate is that it turns a real-world, complex problem into a simple moral choice: porn is either good or bad, right or wrong, and not one shade of grey can be permitted, let alone 50. Having watched a great deal of pornography in the name of research and recreation, I can assure you that not all of it is violent, and indeed that almost any sexual taste, from the placid and petal-strewn to the eyebrow-raisingly reptilian, is catered to online for a modest fee. It is equally true that there is something traumatic about a lot of modern-day pornography, something repressed, violent and deeply involved with a particularly vengeful misogyny that has been on the rise only since women have become more economically independent over the past two generations. Some people like that sort of thing; others have grown up learning it as an erotic script, because sex is fundamentally a social idea. To say that dirty pictures are the problem in themselves, rather than a structure of violent misogyny and sexual control, is to confuse the medium with the message.
One of the most common retorts to the anti-porn alliance is that to campaign against online smut is to do something disgusting and decidedly post-watershed into the wind. The genie of unlimited filth has been let out of its dodgy bottle and no amount of legislation will stop us polishing our lamps.
That’s true, but it’s inadequate. After all, I spend my life, as an idealist and a feminist, arguing that vast, ambitious social change is not only possible but essential. Controlling the consumption of online pornography would require an enormous programme of state and corporate censorship, and the argument against this sort of socio-sexual state control should be not that it is unfeasible, but that it is monstrous. I do not want to live in a world where the government and a select few conservative feminists get to decide what we may and may not masturbate to, and use the bodies of murdered women or children as emotional pawns in that debate.
It is supremely difficult to achieve radical ends by conservative means. Feminists and everyone who seeks to end sexual violence should be very cautious when their immediate goals seem to line up neatly with those of social conservatives and state censors. I believe in a world where violence against women and children is not routine. After all, the idea of a world without sexism is no more unrealistic than getting rid of pornography — and a lot more fun.
It’s useful to keep in mind when claims about pornography being responsible for cases of sexual assault or rape … as the availability of porn on the internet has increased, incidences of violent sexual crimes have been decreasing in most countries. That little fact seems to get omitted when the accusations are being hurled.
Update: Simon Bisson says that the “key to cleaning up the internet is tackling the darknets, not letting censorship in by the back door”.
The latest proposals to lock down the UK internet in the name of preventing child pornography are at best a misunderstanding of how the dark side of the internet works, and at worst a basis for a censorship infrastructure that could make the Great Firewall of China look like a leaky sieve.
In an interview with the BBC, prime minister David Cameron proposed that search engines should block certain terms, warning users of the consequences of searching for those terms.
While that’s all very well, it’s an approach that’s not going to stop the real trade in illegal images — which never touches the big search engines, and hides behind encryption and custom-built networks that Peter Biddle and three other Microsoft engineers christened “darknets” in their 2002 paper. That flaw makes the proposals both misguided and dangerous, as the Open Rights Group notes in its considered response.
The problem facing anyone trying to block child porn or online drug dealing is that it doesn’t happen on the public internet. Online criminals know what they’re doing is illegal, and they’ll take complex precautions to hide their locations and the services.
While Silk Road is a publicly-known darknet site, there are many, many more that are only known to a small group of trusted individuals, bound together to secrecy in the knowledge that what they are doing is illegal. It’s on sites like those that illegal images and video are traded and shared, and bought and sold.
You won’t find them in the web space your ISP gives you, or through searches on Google or Bing. They’re squirreled away at the end of a DSL line somewhere well away from the jurisdiction of the UK government, in a country with loose regulations, and looser policing. Or worse still, they’re hosted in the fast flux DNS of a bot network, distributed across the unwitting PCs of hundreds or thousands of innocent users.
Stopping the web’s bad guys is not a matter of censoring the internet. That’s impossible. What’s needed instead is an international agreement on notice and take down for illegal content, and on shared intelligence about the servers and services criminals are using, with cooperation on shutting down botnets and cybercrime syndicates.
July 21, 2013
It puzzles me why the alleged thief didn’t just sell the stuff and buy (far cheaper) modern booze with the proceeds.
The owner of an historic inn in Pittsburgh has brought charges against a former tenant she says was supposed safeguard 50 bottles of vintage whiskey valued at more than $100,000 but drank it all instead.
The owner of the South Broadway Manor Bed and Breakfast, Patricia Hill, found 104 bottles of Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey when she bought the historic mansion and converted it into a bed and breakfast. It had originally belonged to Pittsburgh businessman J.P. Brennan.
The whiskey had been distilled in 1912 and given to Brennan in 1918, she told ABC News affiliate WTAE.
“There were four cases, 52 bottles, manufactured by an old distillery here in the Township that went out of business many years ago,” Barry Pritts, chief of police in Scottdale, Pa., said today.
He said the bottles had been made and sold before Prohibition and then passed down.
H/T to Doug Mataconis for the link.
July 14, 2013
July 3, 2013
Reason‘s Mike Riggs points out the most amazing part of the Aaron Hernandez case:
Let me paint the scene for you: It’s broad daylight out. A group of six Massachusetts State Police officers in suits and ties approach Hernandez’s North Attleborough mansion from the front. Three of them walk up the steps of his porch, and — with their guns holstered — knock on the door. After roughly 50 seconds of knocking and doorbell-ringing, a shirtless Hernandez opens the door and lets six suited staties, plus a cop in uniform, come inside. As one officer starts to cuff Hernandez right there in the foyer, another officer closes the door, presumably to provide Hernandez with some privacy. A few seconds later, Hernandez — now with a tee-shirt pulled over his handcuffed arms and torso — is led outside to a cop car, where officers gently lower him into the back seat and put on his seatbelt.
No battering ram. No flashbangs. No paramilitary gear. I was shocked.
Compare and contrast this arrest — for homicide — with this arrest first reported by Radley Balko:
In 2011, a SWAT team conducted a midnight raid on Stamps’ home in Framingham looking for a couple of small-time crack dealers. In the chaos and cloud of adrenaline that results from knocking down someone’s door and flooding his home with men dressed like soldiers, an officer shot Stamps in the neck, killing him. The city’s chief of police would later say that Stamps was “tragically and fatally struck by a bullet which was discharged from a SWAT officer’s rifle”; as if guns fire themselves.
When police eventually found who they were looking for — not Stamps, but his stepson and the stepson’s cousin — neither of them was armed. Nor did police find any firearms in the house.
It almost sounds backwards, doesn’t it? Killing an unarmed senior citizen in the process of arresting two unarmed kids holding a couple hundred bucks and some crack, while sending guys in their Sunday best to bring in a man allegedly involved in not just one violent, gang-related murder, but three?
[. . .]
This trend isn’t limited to Massachusetts. Across the country, poor people experience an entirely different criminal justice system — from arrest to prosecution — than the wealthy. Oftentimes, this means blacks are treated more harshly than whites and that the people who sell illegal drugs for money are treated differently than bankers who launder that money.
While football fans are free to care about whatever they want, the most shocking aspect of the Hernandez case isn’t that an incredible athlete killed anywhere from one to three people, it’s that the location of his home and the name of his employer bought him courtesies that poor, nonviolent offenders committing consensual crimes seldom experience.
Update: The Hernandez case gets even more weird:
Investigators in the Aaron Hernandez murder case were prepared to interview a Bristol man who was killed early Sunday when he crashed a car registered to his father-in-law, the former New England Patriot tight end’s uncle.
Multiple law enforcement sources said Massachusetts investigators were interested in speaking with Thaddeus Singleton III, 33, because he was associated with Hernandez. Singleton, who records show has served time in state prisons on various drug-related convictions dating to the mid-1990s, was killed when the car he was driving shot 100 feet through the air and hit the Farmington Country Club 6 feet off the ground.
Maybe this is something new in Nissan automotive technology, but it’s a rare vehicle that can shoot 100 feet through the air and impact a building six feet up? Impressive.
June 25, 2013
680News reported on a Toronto Police drug investigation that ended up with 35 arrests on various charges. That sounds impressive until you get down to the summary of what contraband was confiscated in “Project Wanted”:
Thirteen grams of crack cocaine were seized, seven grams of marijuana, three grams of heroin, 34 grams of ecstasy. The total street value of the drugs was valued at $5,000. The police also seized $1,710.00.
Unless they managed to flush a huge amount of drugs before being arrested, you’d have to say that these people wouldn’t be listed as “drug kingpins”. And these are not amateurs, either:
Police also allege that the total number of convictions of those arrested is 723. The average number of convictions on each person’s criminal record is 20.
Twenty-seven of those arrested were on bail at the time the crimes were alleged to have happened. Nine were on probation.
June 24, 2013
In the (Irish) Independent, Paul Williams explains what the bankers did to force the Irish government to bail them out:
TAPE RECORDINGS from inside doomed Anglo Irish Bank reveal for the first time how the bank’s top executives lied to the Government about the true extent of losses at the institution.
The astonishing tapes show senior manager John Bowe, who had been involved in negotiations with the Central Bank, laughing and joking as he tells another senior manager, Peter Fitzgerald, how Anglo was luring the State into giving it billions of euro.
Mr Fitzgerald had not been involved in the negotiations with the Central Bank and has confirmed he was unaware of any strategy or intention to mislead the authorities. Mr Bowe, in a statement last night, categorically denied that he had misled the Central Bank.
The audio recordings are from the bank’s own internal telephone system and date from the heart of the financial crisis that brought the State to its knees in September 2008.
Anglo itself was within days of complete meltdown — and in the years ahead would eat up €30bn of taxpayer money. Mr Bowe speaks about how the State had been asked for €7bn to bail out Anglo — but Anglo’s negotiators knew all along this was not enough to save the bank.
The plan was that once the State began the flow of money, it would be unable to stop.
June 22, 2013
It apparently takes a week for the US government to publicize that it has laid charges…
Federal prosecutors filed espionage charges against alleged National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, officials familiar with the process said. Authorities have also begun the process of getting Snowden back to the United States to stand trial.
The charges were filed June 14 under seal in federal court in Alexandria, Va. — and only disclosed Friday.
Snowden has been charged with three violations: theft of government property and two offenses under the espionage statutes, specifically giving national defense information to someone without a security clearance and revealing classified information about “communications intelligence.”
Each of the charges carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Snowden, who is a former employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked details about far-reaching Internet and phone surveillance programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post earlier this month. He revealed his identity while in Hong Kong, where it is believed he is still hiding.
It’s not clear whether the extradition will be straightforward:
Andy Tsang, Hong Kong’s police commissioner, said that if an extradition request was sent from a country that had a “mutual legal assistance agreement” with Hong Kong, its government would “handle it in accordance with current Hong Kong laws and systems.”
Simon Young, a professor at Hong Kong University’s faculty of law, suggested it was unclear whether Snowden would win or lose any attempt to fight extradition.
He said theft was listed in the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition treaty. “There is an offence listed in the treaty of unlawful handling of property, but this raises the question as to whether information is property and the answer is not clear,” he said in an email.
At Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis links to an interesting article:
It’s only been a few weeks since we learned to true scope of the National Security Agency’s data mining of the phone records of American citizens, but already lawyers in civil and criminal cases across the country are seeing the database as a potential discovery goldmine:
The National Security Agency has spent years demanding that companies turn over their data. Now, the spy agency finds the shoe is on the other foot. A defendant in a Florida murder trial says telephone records collected by the NSA as part of its surveillance programs hold evidence that would help prove his innocence, and his lawyer has demanded that prosecutors produce those records. On Wednesday, the federal government filed a motion saying it would refuse, citing national security. But experts say the novel legal argument could encourage other lawyers to fight for access to the newly disclosed NSA surveillance database.
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I guess,” said George Washington University privacy law expert Dan Solove. “In a way, it’s kind of ironic.”
Defendant Terrance Brown is accused of participating in the 2010 murder of a Brinks security truck driver. Brown maintains his innocence, and claims cellphone location records would show he wasn’t at the scene of the crime. Brown’s cellphone provider — MetroPCS — couldn’t produce those records during discovery because it had deleted the data already.
On seeing the story in the Guardian indicating that Verizon had been ordered to turn over millions of calling records to the NSA last month, Brown’s lawyer had a novel idea: Make the NSA produce the records.
[. . .]
This particular criminal case is, of course, on where the Federal Government is a party to the case as a prosecutor. As such, the Judge must weight not simply the government’s argument that the information requested is classified and thus should not be disclosed, but also the question of whether the prosecution has a duty to turn over the evidence to the Defendant. As a general rule, the prosecution must turn over any evidence that is potentially exclupatory or which tend to call some aspect of the prosecution’s theory of the case into doubt. The rules for what must be turned over vary from state to state, and the Federal Courts have their own rules, but they all generally follow the principles set down by Brady v. Maryland, which established the general rule that Defendants are entitled to be provided with exculpatory evidence that prosecution may have against them.
Of more interest, though, is the likely hood that attorneys may try to gain access to this NSA metadata in cases where the Federal Government is not involved, such as state court criminal proceedings or even civil matters such as divorces
June 20, 2013
In Reason, Shikha Dalmia looks at the reality of life in India for far too many women:
… the Indian government has been following the feminist script for nearly half a century with little effect. It would serve the cause of gender equity far better if it simply did its job and provided safe streets, timely justice, and other basic public goods for everyone. The absence of such amenities that are taken for granted in the West is arguably the strongest pillar of patriarchy in India.
India’s official rape statistics — which registered 1.8 rapes per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with the United States’ 27.3 — might suggest that India has no rape problem. But everyone knows that rape is vastly underreported in traditional cultures where women fear stigmatizing themselves and dishonoring their families, especially since the chances of justice are remote. Whatever the correct statistics, they can’t capture a crucial qualitative difference in the rape problem between India and in, say, America.
Setting aside incest and sexual assault by friends and relatives that unfortunately happens in all cultures, in America, a lot of rape is “date rape” that occurs when women exercise their social and sexual freedom. The police rarely have an opportunity to intervene in such situations and the only way of combating this problem is by addressing male attitudes. By contrast, in India far more rapes originate in public settings — parks, streets, and buses — as women go about their daily business. This is eminently preventable, which is why, unlike in America, every new episode triggers fresh protests in India.
The very lack of public safety that allows rape also strengthens patriarchy. For starters, it limits women’s employment options. It is too dangerous for them to take jobs that require evening shifts or long commutes. Some companies offer rides home to women who work late, but this makes women more expensive to hire. Single rural women rarely move to cities, where the bulk of job growth is occurring, as men can. All of this undermines women’s ability to maximize their earning potential and gain financial independence.
Above all, it forces women to rely on their patriarchal families for protection, opening them up to all kinds of restrictions. A woman who has to wait for her father or brother to pick her up from college or work — rather than taking a cab or a bus — can’t just meet whomever she wants, wherever she wants, whenever she wants. Everything she does becomes subject to time, place, and manner restrictions by her family and its moral code.
[. . .]
Feminism will never get rid of patriarchy without first getting rid of the need for it. Patriarchy’s staying power stems not just from backward belief systems but a gritty ground reality. The lack of basic law-and-order means that women have to rely on male physical strength for security making men socially more valuable and more dangerous. This makes men, as feminists point out, both protectors and rapists. Electing female politicians and demanding more gender equality won’t cut this Gordian knot—only good governance that promotes public safety for all will.
June 18, 2013
In Reason, Jonathan Hafetz reviews a new book by Anthony Gregory called The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror:
This tension between the ideal and the reality of habeas corpus is central to Anthony Gregory’s excellent new book, The Power of Habeas Corpus in America. Gregory, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, provides a valuable contribution to the literature on habeas corpus, one with broader implications for civil liberties, state power, and justice in a liberal democracy. The book does not attempt to capture all of the complex doctrinal shifts in habeas over the centuries. Instead, it synthesizes these developments to underscore a paradox: the way habeas serves as “both as an engine and a curb on state power.” In the process, Gregory charts how power dynamics have historically shaped struggles over habeas and its role in American society.
Gregory situates this paradox early in habeas‘ history. During the 15th and 16th centuries, habeas served mainly as a mechanism for England’s central courts to assert control over ecclesiastical courts and other rival tribunals. By demanding that reason be given why any of the king’s subjects was imprisoned, habeas helped increase the crown’s authority and legitimacy.
By the late 17th century, on the other hand, habeas had become a means of challenging royal authority itself, eventually taking on its modern incarnation as the Great Writ of Liberty. Yet even here, the story is more complex. Building on the pioneering work of historian Paul Halliday, Gregory points out that, contrary to popular interpretations, habeas‘ potential as a judicial constraint on state power was threatened by legislation. Gregory notes, for instance, how the famous Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, labeled by William Blackstone as a “second Magna Carta and stable bulwark of our liberties,” ultimately diluted the writ’s potency and flexibility by tying it down to statute. Increasingly, habeas‘ efficacy would be seen to depend on legislative action — an understanding perhaps best illustrated by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s statement that a federal court’s power to award the writ “must be given by written law.”
[. . .]
The contradictions within habeas were manifested during antebellum America, where the writ was used both to bolster slavery and to undermine it. Slave owners employed habeas to apprehend runaways — for example, by petitioning state courts in the North to assist in apprehending their “property.” Other state courts in the North, by contrast, sometimes used habeas to free slaves or block their return to the South. Ultimately, the ability of state courts to wield habeas in defense of individual liberty was limited by Supreme Court rulings barring state interference with the enforcement of federal fugitive slave laws and, eventually, with federal detentions generally — an example of what Gregory describes as the dangers of centralization.
A significant counter to Gregory’s thesis is the role federal habeas corpus played during the 20th century in helping enforce civil rights in the South and in advancing the criminal procedure revolution undertaken by the Supreme Court to protect the rights of defendants. Gregory’s account here runs against the traditional narrative in which habeas‘ centralization was critical to its continuing role in protecting liberty. In response, Gregory cites the declining utility of federal habeas corpus following several decades of Supreme Court decisions and congressional restrictions that have made it more difficult for prisoners not merely to obtain relief but even to have their claims heard by a judge. Federal habeas, Gregory writes, has become a “shell of what it promised to be.”