- On Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin convenes hearing intended to bash “Stand Your Ground,” ALEC, and anyone associated with either; keep an eye on the testimony of my Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro who may prove more than a match [Sun-Times, Tuccille, Keating; background; hearing now postponed] Accuracy problems dog Coalition to Stop Gun Violence on SYG [John Hinderaker, PowerLine] Demagoguing Lane, Belton slayings is no way to “balance” media skew on Martin/Zimmerman [Ann Althouse]
- Following “finger-gun” episode at another Maryland school: “Gun gesture leads to suspension for Calvert sixth-grader” [WaPo, earlier] Why a mom changed her mind on letting kid play with toy guns [C. Gross-Loh, The Atlantic]
- Advocacy play-by-play: “A how-to book on inciting a moral panic” [James Taranto]
- If you think gun liberties are shrinking overall in America, check out this map [Volokh] “Illinois Supreme Court: Second Amendment Protects Carrying Outside the Home” [Volokh] “Chicago abolishes gun registry in place since 1968” [Reuters]
- Forthcoming Nicholas Johnson book “Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms” [Law and Liberty]
- Database cross-checks put California on slippery slope confiscation-wise [Steven Greenhut]
- Cato amicus brief: Supreme Court should clarify that the Second Amendment “protects more than the right to keep a gun in one’s home.” [Shapiro, Cato; Woollard v. Gallagher, Maryland]
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close ally of labor union and trial lawyer interests on Capitol Hill, is sending out hundreds of letters to groups linked to ALEC, the free-market group of state legislators that has occasionally involved itself in other issue areas like criminal and self-defense law, promising to shame those supporters at a public hearing for the notional link to the Trayvon Martin affair. (ALEC backed the passage of some state “stand-your-ground” laws, which as we have grown weary of repeating, did not form the basis for George Zimmerman’s successful claim of self-defense; a new Quinnipiac poll finds that American voters back “Stand Your Ground” laws by a 53-40 margin, so that campaign against these laws has evidently flopped badly)
Mostly these letters were designed to intimidate businesses that might support ALEC, but Durbin also sent one of the browbeating letters to the Cato Institute, which might have been a mistake. As related by colleague Ilya Shapiro:
Earlier this week, we received a letter from Durbin asking two questions (you’ll have to pardon the awkward grammar; this went out to hundreds of groups, so Durbin’s staff apparently had no time for proofing):
Has Cato Institute served as a member of ALEC or provided any funding to ALEC in 2013?
Does Cato Institute support the “stand your ground” legislation that was adopted as a national model and promoted by ALEC?
And, by the way, Durbin wants recipients of his polite inquiry to know, “I plan to convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to examine ‘stand your ground’ laws, and I intend to include the responses to my letters in the hearing record. Therefore, please know that your response will be publicly available.”
Well, I’m proud to say that Cato isn’t going along with this charade. Our president John Allison has responded to Durbin with a letter that I’ll quote in its entirety:
Dear Senator Durbin:
Your letter of August 6, 2013 is an obvious effort to intimidate those organizations and individuals who may have been involved in any way with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
While Cato is not intimidated because we are a think tank—whose express mission is to speak publicly to influence the climate of ideas—from my experience as a private-sector CEO, I know that business leaders will now hesitate to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of regulatory retribution.
Your letter thus represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is a continuation of the trend of the current administration and congressional leaders, such as yourself, to menace those who do not share your political beliefs—as evidenced by the multiple IRS abuses that have recently been exposed.
Your actions are a subtle but powerful form of government coercion.
We would be glad to provide a Cato scholar to testify at your hearing to discuss the unconstitutional abuse of power that your letter symbolizes.
The Wall Street Journal is on the issue today, and so is the Chicago Tribune, reproaching hometown Sen. Durbin for his propensity to “use the power of his high federal office as a cudgel against his enemies.” Incidentally, while Cato takes no official position so far as I know on “Stand Your Ground” laws, I have been active in discussing them: in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Daily Caller, Bloomberg TV, Cato podcast and other places, and in many places here, including discussions of the campaign against ALEC here, here, here, and here (Paul Krugman at his most careless). Do you think I could ask the Senator to shame me by name at the hearing?
P.S. One of the rare occasions when my opinions diverge from Ira Stoll’s.
- Detroit police blasted for arresting Free Press photographer who filmed arrest with her iPhone [Poynter]
- “The discomfort of principles” in criminal defense matters [Gideon’s Trumpet]
- House Judiciary panel on overcriminalization and mens rea shows genuinely useful bipartisanship [Jonathan Blanks, Cato] One in four new bills these days to create criminal liability lacks mens rea [Paul Rosenzweig/Alex Adrianson, Heritage]
- Auburn, Alabama: “Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas” [Reason TV]
- Film project on overturned Death Row convictions [One for Ten] “Forensics review reveals hair evidence was possibly exaggerated in 27 capital cases” [ABA Journal]
- Critics of Stand Your Ground seem to be having trouble coming up with examples to back their case [Sullum]
- Maine: “Hancock County prosecutor admits violating bar rules in sexual assault trial” [Bill Trotter, Bangor Daily News]
Cathy Young arraigns the press for “an ideology-based, media-driven false narrative that has distorted a tragedy into a racist outrage.” Bob Somerby at Daily Howler has been documenting chapter and verse for some time, including this reminder of how the New York Times early on, taking dictation from Martin family lawyers, popularized a super-inflammatory “two-shot, cold blood” narrative that influenced public perceptions. Much of this is already familiar to readers of Overlawyered coverage including posts discussing media handling of the case here, here, here, here, and here.
My own theory — admittedly shaped by my professional interests — is that if you dig beneath the failure of a credulous press here you find a failure in legal ethics. While the press did publish one untruth after another about what happened that night and about the principals, a large share of those untruths can ultimately be traced to the offices of Benjamin Crump & Co., with some later help from Angela Corey’s office.
What about ideological outlets like ThinkProgress, which disgracefully promoted one error after another in egging on the press frenzy? To quote what I wrote at the time Zimmerman was charged:
The thing is, “Stand Your Ground” hadn’t really been a pet issue one way or the other for many of those who now harp on it. I think the better answer is: because many people yearn for ways to blame their ideological opponents when something awful happens. It’s much more satisfying to do that than to wind up wasting one’s blame on some individual or local police department for actions or decisions that might not even turn out to be motivated by ideology.
Consider, for example, the efforts to set up the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council as somehow the ultimate villain in the Martin shooting. Left-wing groups, assisted by labor union and trial lawyer interests, had been pursuing a campaign against ALEC for months before the Martin case, in hopes of making the group radioactive among generally liberal donors like the Gates Family Foundation and the Coca-Cola Co. Nothing had worked — until the synthetic Stand Your Ground furor finally afforded an opening.
Although Eric Holder, Barack Obama and a long list of liberal publications and organizations have lately pressed the cause, states recognizing “stand your ground” principles of self-defense show little inclination to overturn them [Annie Yu, Washington Times last week, quoting me; AP] “The substantial majority view among the states, by a 31-19 margin, is no duty to retreat.” [Eugene Volokh] Barack Obama’s voting record on related issues in the Illinois state senate may surprise some readers [Jacob Sullum, who has been giving the issue thorough coverage] “Blacks benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate” [Patrick Howley, Daily Caller] Some more thoughts from Mark Bennett at Defending People. Bonus: what it’s like to be mounted in a fistfight (alleging that bare hands and feet have been responsible for 4,028 deaths since 2007, more than rifles and shotguns combined).
Jacob Sullum does not weary of pointing out the paper’s repeated misreporting about the “Stand Your Ground” principle, misreporting not unrelated to the efforts of campaigners from the Legal Left who have sought to wring ideological advantage from the Martin-Zimmerman case.
- Tony Jalali case: “Anaheim, feds try to seize office building under forfeiture laws because owner rented to medical marijuana dispensaries” [@radleybalko, Institute for Justice]
- Judge Ciavarella, of cash-for-kids Pa. scandal, sentenced to 28 years [Citizens Voice, background]
- Explosion in US prison population isn’t just from War on Drugs [Pfaff via Greenfield] Reform of (and reduction in) incarceration too important to be left to liberals [Eli Lehrer, Weekly Standard]
- “Report details lives ruined for children put on sex-offender registries” [Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity via Lenore Skenazy]
- Criminal justice reform, per the NAACP’s Ben Jealous, is “one area where GOP can connect with black voters” [Jeremy Kolassa]
- “It’s actually a really good book, making me despise Geragos all the more.” [Scott Greenfield reviews Mistrial] And an oldie but goodie: Greenfield reviews “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Criminal Justice System”;
- Alleged “duty injury king” of Cook County jail dethroned after one comp claim too many [Chicago Sun-Times]
- Tip from Georgia cops: avoid situations where you might have to cling to hood of moving car [Lowering the Bar]
- ABA’s evidently already made up its mind to oppose Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws, but is holding public “hearings” on the topic anyway [ABA Journal]
- Don’t forget to check out Cato’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which you can also follow on Twitter and like on Facebook
- Thank you, Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, for getting Obama’s claim of warrantless domestic killing authority onto the media front burner — finally — through Sen. Paul’s filibuster last night. (More: Nick Gillespie, Conor Friedersdorf and background, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Blackman; Mediaite (Eric Holder sends letter, Rand Paul declares victory).
- Pending SCOTUS case of “Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl” is not the first Indian Child Welfare Act fiasco [Ann Althouse] More on ICWA [NYT Room for Debate]
- Has ABA now enlisted in the crusade against Stand Your Ground self-defense laws? [ABA Journal] Reminder #371 that the Martin-Zimmerman case is not likely to hinge on Florida’s SYG law [Jacob Sullum; Jeralyn Merritt with more detail on latest developments]
- “Transparency in Government: Finding Out How Much the Government’s Mistakes Are Costing Us” [Hans von Spakovsky, Heritage]
- “New York, to Stem Civil-Rights Suits, Is Now Reluctant to Settle” [NY Times]
- CPSC adopts sweeping CPSIA testing and certification rule [Nancy Nord] Should the CPSC be structured as a multi-member commission? [Commissioner Nord at Cato’s Regulation magazine, PDF, and “Conversations with Consumers“]
- Illinois: “Small Town to Lose Its Only Sledding Hill” [Free-Range Kids]
- “Word of the day: Mendicant” [New York Times education blog; I’m quoted in]
- “‘Stand Your Ground’ task force offers no big changes to Florida law” [Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times]
- “Statutes of Limitations Apply Especially to Government Agencies” [Ilya Shapiro on Cato Institute amicus brief in Gabelli/SEC case] “The rule of lenity is violated when people go to prison for breaking ambiguous laws/regulations.” [Roger Marzulla, Federalist Society “Engage”]
- Sen. Rand Paul on the Missouri rabbit breeder case [Daily Caller]
- Mondale Act of 1974 (CAPTA) laid down basis for child abuse witch hunts [William Anderson, Agitator]
- Sententiousness vs. due process, plus a window into comments moderation at BoingBoing [Popehat] Background on State v. Fourtin [Gideon’s Trumpet first, second post]
- Massachusetts: “State’s Chemist Admits ‘Testing’ Drug Samples by Looking at Them” [Lowering the Bar]
- Plea bargaining: For Scott Greenfield, a showdown for justice at high noon turns into one of life’s little compromises [Simple Justice]
Remember this past April, when I was telling anyone who would listen that Florida’s much-flayed “Stand Your Ground” no-duty-to-retreat self-defense doctrine was unlikely to be relevant in the Trayvon Martin shooting, even as much of the media was publishing piece after piece claiming the opposite? Bloomberg’s Ed Adams is kind enough to remember:
— Edward Adams (@edadams) August 14, 2012
Specifically, as AP now reports, “attorney Mark O’Mara now confirms that ‘The facts don’t seem to support a “stand your ground” defense,'” and that he will instead be advancing a conventional self-defense theory on behalf of client George Zimmerman. To add confusion, the preliminary hearing provided for by Florida law is colloquially known as a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, even if SYG itself is not the grounds on which dismissal is sought.
Particularly shameful were the organized campaigns in some quarters first to demonize Stand Your Ground as having somehow caused Martin’s death, and then to demonize the American Legislative Exchange Council for having promoted self-defense laws in other states. With little critical scrutiny in the media, the campaign even enjoyed a certain amount of success, though its factual flimsiness was apparent enough at the time.