Fixing the Froward Court

Consider a home-plate umpire named Jefferson or Thomas. He adjudges balls and strikes; keeps a count of balls and strikes; decides whether to call a game on account of rain; and ejects a batter who, having been made by a knuckle-baller to look like an amateur, expresses his profound disappointment by throwing his bat.

Imagine a home-plate umpire named Hamilton or Sotomayor, who declares that baseball arbitration is unconstitutional; orders a triple-A minor-league baseball team to change its player-selection standards; declares that the Yankees’ numbers-only uniforms deny equal protection; and prohibits use of designated hitters later than the second trimester of any one season.


Unjust: The problem with court martial reform

It's the culture, not the structure.

In recent months, the American military has seen a series of controversies over justice, accountability, and command authority. In February, a former soldier killed two police detectives in California when they went to question him about allegations that he had tried to sexually assault a co-worker. The ex-soldier, who died in a subsequent shootout with police, turned out to have been twice accused of rape while in uniform. Rather than prosecuted him, the army allowed him to leave the service.


Springtime for disclosure

With spring in full bloom, the ground isn’t the only thing beginning to thaw. Finally, more than two years after Citizens United unleashed a torrent of spending in federal elections, the rigid partisan stalemate on disclosure appears to be softening.
Last week, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) unveiled the Follow the Money Act, which would beef up disclosure of outside spending. Before that, the Texas Senate, a body with a 19-12 Republican majority, passed similar legislation by a 23-6 vote. The bill now moves to the Assembly after a Senate committee approved it unanimously.


Bipartisan bill would ease prison overcrowding

Thirty years ago, the National Association of Evangelicals adopted a policy statement condemning America’s overcrowded and non-rehabilitative prisons.  We recognized the need to punish offenders and incarcerate dangerous criminals but noted that “half of those in prison have been convicted of non-violent offenses.” For these offenders, we recommended biblically-based sanctions like restitution “as an alternative or supplement to incarceration.” We also opposed excessive incarceration due to its high expense and because it undermines rehabilitation.
Looking back three decades later, it is remarkable how true our statement remains, and how little policymakers have done to improve the situation in our prisons.


President and Congress must act to fill judicial vacancies

The judicial appointment process has been broken for two decades. Through the first two centuries of our republic, the Senate was renowned as the world’s greatest deliberative body, the home of lawmakers and statespeople who understood not only the impact of soaring rhetoric but also the value of collaboration and compromise. Senators assiduously exercised their authority to provide advice and consent on judicial nominations. The judicial appointment process was divisive at times, but presidents and senators have historically recognized that stonewalling judicial nominees undermines the independence of the judiciary as a coequal branch of government. With 86 (one in 10) vacancies on our federal bench and with 37 vacant judgeships qualifying as judicial emergencies, the time for collaboration and compromise is now.


Why universal background checks won't work

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, America’s gun control movement was momentarily reenergized. Many reasoned voices sought solutions for such events, which unimpassioned analysis showed to mainly be a mental health issue. Gun control groups also concurred on the mental health aspect, then squandered that brief moment of collaboration by tossing their dusty legislative wish list into the political maelstrom. Knowing that their more extreme measures had little or no chance of passage – such as Dianne Feinstein’s now stalled “assault weapons” ban – they include seemingly benign and popular measures including “universal” background checks.

As with assault weapons, the public self-educated on the topic, and is now rejecting the plan. And for good reasons.


Ban solitary confinement for youth in care of the federal government

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.


Senate must pass a strong background check law

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.


National database for background checks is a myth

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.


Real possibilities for gun law reform - but devil is in the details

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.