Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Something on Which We Can All Agree - Less Government in Criminal Justice

At last - something on which the right and left can agree....

In "Right and Left Join Forces on Criminal Justice," Adam Liptak describes how both conservatives and liberals are coming around to a position of agreement that government exercises too much power on matters of criminal justice. (The notion of excessive government power is something I've discussed here previously.)

It is great news for all libertarians - civil, progressive, minimalist alike - that conservatives are coming around from their "tough-on-crime" posture they've held since the days of Nixon, to recognizing that government simply too involved in criminalizing individual activity.

Liptak reports:

"'It’s a remarkable phenomenon,' said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. 'The left and the right have bent to the point where they are now in agreement on many issues. In the area of criminal justice, the whole idea of less government, less intrusion, less regulation has taken hold.'"

"Edwin Meese III, who was known as a fervent supporter of law and order as attorney general in the Reagan administration, now spends much of his time criticizing what he calls the astounding number and vagueness of federal criminal laws.

"Mr. Meese once referred to the ACLU as part of the 'criminals’ lobby.' These days, he said, 'in terms of working with the ACLU, if they want to join us, we’re happy to have them.'

"Dick Thornburgh, who succeeded Mr. Meese as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and stayed on under President George Bush, echoed that sentiment in Congressional testimony in July.

“'The problem of overcriminalization is truly one of those issues upon which a wide variety of constituencies can agree,' Mr. Thornburgh said. 'Witness the broad and strong support from such varied groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Legal Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the A.B.A., the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society and the ACLU.'"

A Heritage Foundation report shows that there are "more than 4,400 criminal offenses in the federal code, many of them lacking a requirement that prosecutors prove traditional kinds of criminal intent."

Liptak continues: "Harvey A. Silverglate, a left-wing civil liberties lawyer in Boston, says he has been surprised and delighted by the reception that his new book, 'Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” has gotten in conservative circles. (A Heritage Foundation official offered this reporter a copy.)

"The book argues that federal criminal law is so comprehensive and vague that all Americans violate it every day, meaning prosecutors can indict anyone at all.

“'Libertarians and the civil liberties left have always had some common ground on these issues,' said Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason, a libertarian magazine. 'The more vocal presence of conservatives on overcriminalization issues is really what’s new.' ... 'Conservatives now recognize the economic consequences of a criminal justice leviathan,' said Erik Luna, a law professor at Washington and Lee University."

It is a rarity for folks from across the political spectrum to find common ground; but it is encouraging that there seems to be some broadening agreement on lessening the proliferation of criminal statutes.