At the end of March Robert Listenbee Jr. quietly started work as the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice, filling a post left vacant by the Obama administration for the past four years. There are many important issues that Listenbee, a respected public defender, must tackle, but he could have no better first accomplishment than successfully championing a federal ban on solitary confinement for children in federal custody.
Now that senators have returned from their recess, they must act swiftly to pass Senator Reid’s omnibus gun violence prevention bill (S.649), which requires that all gun buyers pass background checks — whether they purchase their firearms from licensed dealers or else in so-called “private” sales, such as online and at gun shows. And the bill must take the same record-keeping requirement that already applies to dealers and extend it to such private sellers. Failure to do so will deny police the critical tools we need to solve crimes. As law enforcement officers, we have spent decades watching our insufficient laws give criminals easy access to guns, with tragic results.
Thanks to Hollywood movies and nightly television crime programs like CSI, Criminal Minds and Law and Order, most people think that all it takes to find criminals in this country is the stroke of a computer key. There persists a common misconception that a universal national database, containing complete criminal information for every suspect in America, already exists and is readily accessible.
A number of competing gun-control proposals are being prepared in the Senate. While there are a few sensible provisions on the table, we should not be too optimistic any of the bills will do much to prevent tragedies like Newtown, nor lower the rate of gun violence in America. Any serious proposal for reducing gun violence must focus on the people who commit gun crimes and why, rather than on the guns used in the crimes.
Supporters of common-sense controls should continue to resist, and even filibuster, pointless and counterproductive proposals such as the so-called assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine bans, and universal background checks. Proposals to beef-up penalties for straw purchasers and provide more mental health information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) have merit. But school safety measures should be left to the states, as a matter of both good representative government and of constitutionality.
Public demand for cameras in the court is well established. We have conducted a series of public opinion studies on the issue over the past few years and most recently found that 93 percent of likely voters say “the workings of the Supreme Court should be more open and transparent.” This sentiment spans Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. In addition, 58 percent of voters say there is “too little” news coverage of the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, the public demand for cameras in the court is rising. In June 2009, 61 percent of likely voters said the court should allow televised coverage of oral arguments. In the midst of the ACA cases last March, we found 74 percent of likely voters supporting cameras in the court. And our most recent poll found fully 75 percent of likely voters who say the Supreme Court should allow cameras inside for the oral arguments for the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.
This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the most important civil rights cases of our time – Hollingsworth v. Perry (challenging California’s Proposition 8) and United States v. Windsor (contesting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act). Both Proposition 8 and DOMA define members of the LGBT community as second-class citizens who are incapable of the same commitment as straight couples, and as a class of citizens who pose a direct threat to the American way of life.
On March 26, 2003, a lawyer stood in front of the nine Justices on the Supreme Court and argued that states should not be allowed to criminally prosecute gay and lesbian people for engaging in sexual activity. At the time, 14 states still had laws on the books that made “homosexual conduct” a crime. Flash forward exactly ten years later, and the Court was considering whether Proposition 8, (barring gay couples from marrying in California) violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. What a difference a decade makes.
As a proud gun store owner, an avid outdoorsman, and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, I know that recreational firearm use can be a safe, family-friendly activity that builds community and benefits everyone who takes part. But I also know that with our constitutional right to bear arms comes a responsibility to protect our loved ones and our neighbors from the devastating effects of gun violence.
In order to do just that, my fellow gun owners must come together to support perhaps the most logical and pragmatic gun safety measure currently under consideration in Washington: expanding the existing background check system to require criminal background checks for each and every gun sale.
Even before the sequester took effect, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice was warning that federal prison spending had become “unsustainable” and was forcing cuts in other anti-crime initiatives. Despite such warnings, we have seen little evidence of an administration strategy on how to control these costs. Fortunately, Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) today are stepping in to fill that void with the introduction of bipartisan legislation to restore common sense to our criminal sentencing laws.
The Internal Revenue Service has a golden opportunity to boost its efficiency discovering federal income tax fraud and to correct deficiencies in its fledgling Whistleblower Program.
Seven years ago, when the IRS opened its Whistleblower Office, whistleblower advocates welcomed the initiative as another arrow in the government’s quiver to pursue tax cheats and fraudsters. Since 2006, however, the IRS has neither investigated nor prosecuted thousands of whistleblower claims involving billions of dollars in unpaid taxes by corporations and high net worth individuals. The IRS paid less than 10 rewards and thousands of claims remain languishing in a system hamstrung by obstructive administrative rules and narrowly tailored legal opinions. The IRS Chief Counsel appears to be hostile toward whistleblowers.
The IRS can do a much better job.