Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mr. Chairman, the president’s clemency power is beyond dispute

On July 13, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders.  In response, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), joined by 18 of his fellow Republican committee members, issued a letter to the attorney general expressing their “deep concern” that the president “continues to use his pardon power to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes.”  The use of the pardon power “to benefit an entire class of offenders who were duly convicted in a court of law,” the letter asserts, is “plainly unconstitutional” because it purportedly usurps “the lawmaking authority of the Legislative Branch” and involves “picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which to change.”

Goodlatte and his colleagues are certainly entitled to take issue with Obama’s decision to grant a measure of relief to persons sentenced under a set of laws that are widely viewed to have been, in practice if not by design, racially discriminatory and unjust.  But their constitutional claims are so illiterate that it is difficult to tell whether they expect the attorney general to take them seriously.

The chairman’s criticism ignores settled practice stretching back to the beginning of the Republic.  Throughout American history, presidents have granted executive clemency to “specific classes of offenders” on dozens of occasions, from George Washington’s pardon of the Whiskey Rebels in 1795 to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of the Iran-Contra defendants in 1992.  Perhaps more to the point, in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson commuted the sentences of several hundred prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, without objection by Congress.

The historical lack of controversy shouldn’t be surprising.  Under our tripartite system of government, an act of executive clemency in no sense “usurps” legislative or judicial authority.  Rather, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, it “is a part of the Constitutional scheme.  When granted it is the determination of the ultimate [executive] authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.”  The president’s pardoning authority is therefore limited only by the text of the Constitution itself, not by the transitory terms of the criminal code.  Indeed, that was the Framers’ point in giving the power to the president in the first place, to act as a check on the other branches.

To be sure, the president’s systematic exercise of the pardon power to benefit “specific classes of offenders” has not gone entirely unchallenged by Congress.  But the Supreme Court long ago resolved this dispute in favor of Obama’s authority to redress the injustices entrenched by the current federal sentencing regime.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson issued a series of amnesty proclamations that restored the civil rights of former Confederate sympathizers.  This was enormously controversial at the time, not least because it undermined the Radical Republican’s designs for the post-war reconstruction of Southern society.

In the ensuing legal battle, the Supreme Court repeatedly struck down Congress’s attempts to constrain the president’s pardoning authority.  In 1866, the Court held, without qualification, that “[t]his power of the President is not subject to legislative control.  Congress can neither limit the effect of his pardon, nor exclude from its exercise any class of offenders.  The benign prerogative of mercy reposed in him cannot be fettered by any legislative restrictions.”

The Court also rejected the effort to draw a false distinction between pardons granted to specific individuals on a case-by-case basis and a pardon granted to a class of persons by means of an amnesty proclamation, precisely the claim that House Republicans are making against Obama.  The president is therefore authorized to grant a general amnesty without congressional sanction, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Finally, there is no reason to doubt that the president can grant clemency because of his own policy judgment about a particular law.  As one conservative federal judge recently opined, it is a “settled, bedrock principle of constitutional law” that “the president may decline to prosecute or may pardon because of the president’s own constitutional concerns about a law or because of policy objections to the law.”

The historical irony, of course, is that a presidential power forged in a bitter political dispute over the property rights of Confederate rebels is now being used to afford a measure of justice to federal drug offenders, who are disproportionately African-American.  Turnabout, I suppose, is fair play.  But the president’s power is beyond dispute.

Source:  http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/the-administration/249151-mr-chairman-the-presidents-clemency-power-is-beyond

Making 1984 a reality‏

This week, Congress is voting on a bill that would let the government scrape all of your data off the backbone of the Internet, and introduce security vulnerabilities they don’t know how to fix. It’s baffling how poorly Congress seems to understand the Internet sometimes — so this week, we’re going to fight their outdated ideology with a technology so outdated they might actually understand it: the fax machine.

Click here to automatically send a fax to Congress opposing CISA, their latest mega-surveillance bill.

CISA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act, would give spy agencies like the NSA more power than ever before and grant giant companies like Facebook and Google sweeping legal immunity to share your private data with the government.

The NSA claims that we need CISA to stop cyber-attacks, but experts say it won’t do that at all, and will actually make networks even more vulnerable to hacking.

Congress clearly doesn’t understand modern technology. They’re stuck in 1984. So to get their attention we built a robot so that you can send them a message using technology old enough even they can understand it: a FAX.

Click here and we’ll automatically send a fax opposing CISA to every member of the Senate. You can even customize your fax and add any text or images you want!

When you click the link we’ll automatically start sending a default fax to Congress. It’s so easy! After you click, you can edit your fax if you want and add your own reasons for opposing this dystopian spying bill.

We’ve killed bills like CISA before and we can do it again. Let’s do this!

Click here to send a fax to Congress opposing CISA now!

Oh and any tweet w/ #faxbigbrother will get faxed too!

This Machine Builds Movements: The Case for Indigenous Community Radio

...Community radio is uniquely situated to cater to the needs of Indigenous communities. The opportunity to produce community-generated mass media can be channeled to support Indigenous language revitalization and preservation efforts. It also provides an easily accessible channel to disseminate culturally appropriate information on public health, development, and politics in real time. The simple and resilient medium is pragmatic and cost-effective on the receiving end, as well as (moderately) cheap on the broadcasting side. It has the potential to organize community members dispersed over difficult terrain be it urban or rural, as well as the power to reach areas that lack phone or internet services.

More:  https://intercontinentalcry.org/this-machine-builds-movements-28452/

Eco-vigilantes vs. an outlaw trawler, in a 10,000-mile chase

For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the Thunder, a fugitive fishing ship considered the world’s most notorious poacher.
In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history.
Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it. So Sea Shepherd did instead.

More:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/world/a-renegade-trawler-hunted-for-10000-miles-by-vigilantes.html


BREAKING: U.S. will parole Jonathan Pollard in November after 30 years in prison as a spy for Israel

Jonathan J. Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for passing classified documents to the Israeli government, will be released on parole in November after 30 years in prison, a government panel decided on Tuesday.
Mr. Pollard’s lawyers announced the decision of the United States Parole Commission on Tuesday afternoon, and officials at the Department of Justice confirmed that Mr. Pollard had been granted parole.
Mr. Pollard, 60, had been scheduled for a mandatory parole in November, but could have been kept in prison for years longer if the United States government had objected to his release, citing concerns about an ongoing threat to national security.

More:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/29/world/middleeast/jonathan-pollard-spy-for-israel-to-be-released-on-parole-in-november.html


Jon Stewart’s secret White House visits

...To engage privately with the president in his inner sanctum at two sensitive moments — previously unreported meetings that are listed in the White House visitor logs and confirmed to POLITICO by three former Obama aides — speaks volumes about Stewart and his reach, which goes well beyond the million or so viewers who tune into The Daily Show on most weeknights.

Love Stewart’s jokes or hate them, he has proven to be a unique voice who is capable of turning in-the-weeds policy discussions into viral video sensations that the country is still talking about the next morning.

More:  http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/07/jon-stewarts-secret-white-house-visits-000178

N.S.A. Will Not Be Allowed to Keep Old Phone Records

WASHINGTON — Analysts at the National Security Agency will no longer be permitted to search a database holding five years of Americans’ domestic calling records after Nov. 29, the Obama administration said on Monday.
Legislation enacted in June barred the N.S.A. from collecting Americans’ calling records after 180 days, but did not say what would happen to the data already gathered. Under a new system laid out by the USA Freedom Act, the government will not hold the bulk data, which is used to analyze links between callers in search of terrorism suspects.
More:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/us/politics/nsa-will-not-be-allowed-to-keep-old-phone-records.html

Monday, July 27, 2015

Let's consider leniency for many 'violent' offenders too

...Conceptualizing nonviolent drug offenders as somehow qualitatively different from other offenders creates a false distinction. Many crimes labeled “violent” under our criminal codes are either directly motivated by drug addiction or directly related to drug sales or possession. A heroin-addicted veteran who walks into a garage to steal tools to feed his drug habit has committed a first-degree burglary, a “violent” crime under many state codes. A drug-motivated unarmed robbery in which the offender pushes the victim, takes cash from his wallet, and runs away is also a “violent” crime under most state laws. A person who owns a firearm and has it in his house while engaging in a drug deal has committed a “crime of violence” under the federal sentencing guidelines. In short, “violent crime” is a legally constructed term that includes within its broad reach a great deal of drug-related conduct that wouldn't be considered “violent,” as Americans colloquially use that term.

More:  http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-roth-non-violent-prison-clemency-20150724-story.html

Death of Choctaw Activist Rexdale Henry in Neshoba Jail Prompts Private Autopsy

A private autopsy is under way for Rexdale W. Henry, a 53-year-old man found dead inside the Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Miss., on July 14.
According to WTOK, detention officers found Henry's body around 10 a.m.; he was last seen alive 30 minutes earlier. The state crime lab in Jackson conducted an autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.
Funeral services for Henry took place July 19 in Bogue Chitto. A few days later, his body was flown to Florida for an independent autopsy paid for by anonymous donors.
Henry, a member of the Choctaw tribe and a lifelong community activist, coached stickball and had been a candidate for the Choctaw Tribal Council from Bogue Chitto the week before his arrest on July 9 for failure to pay a fine.
Helping with the family's independent probe are civil-rights activists John Steele, a close friend of Henry's, and Diane Nash, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as Syracuse University law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson of the school's Cold Case Justice Initiative.

Obama Administration Rejects Drug Court Plan In Criminal Justice Bill

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration objects to key provisions in a bipartisan criminal justice bill in the House that has picked up support from both the tough-on-crime end of the Republican Party and advocates of overhauling federal prison sentencing guidelines, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The bill’s sponsors say the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015 — or SAFE Act — takes the best ideas from state criminal justice efforts in recent years and applies them to the federal system, but Obama administration officials have told supporters of the bill they don’t like several of its provisions, including a key one that would essentially create a federal version of the drug court programs an increasing number of states use to divert low-level, first-time drug offenders away from prison and into probation.

It’s early in the legislative process for the SAFE Act, and with the big focus on bipartisan momentum around criminal justice at the moment, no one is willing to go on the record with the rift over the bill. But several people familiar with both administration thinking and the plans of the bill’s supporters told BuzzFeed News that members of Obama’s team have told the SAFE Act’s backers they aren’t happy with the bill.

More:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/evanmcsan/obama-administration-rejects-drug-court-plan-in-criminal-jus#.dh9GzGBNbk