I write at Cato about the accomplishments of Ida Wells (1862-1931), who after being born into slavery in Mississippi became the leading voice documenting the horrors of lynch law in late nineteenth century America, as well as a free speech heroine (a mob in Memphis attacked and destroyed her printing press). Wells is also the subject of today’s Google Doodle. And as I learned from Nicholas Johnson’s post last year at Volokh, she was a notable figure in the history of the Second Amendment as well.
My new piece at Reason begins:
We’ve seen it happen again and again: libertarians are derided over some supposedly crazy or esoteric position, years pass, and eventually others start to see why our position made sense. It’s happened with asset forfeiture, with occupational licensure, with the Drug War, and soon, perhaps, with libertarians’ once-lonely critique of school truancy laws.
In his 1980 book Free To Choose, economist Milton Friedman argued that compulsory school attendance laws do more harm than good, a prescient view considering what’s come since: both Democratic and Republican lawmakers around the country, prodded by the education lobby, have toughened truancy laws with serious civil and even criminal penalties for both students and parents. Now the horror stories pile up: the mom arrested and shackled because her honor-roll son had a few unexcused sick days too many, the teenagers managing chaotic home lives who are threatened with juvenile detention for their pains, the mother who died in jail after being imprisoned for truancy fines. It’s been called carceral liberalism: we’re jailing you, your child, or both, but don’t worry because it’s for your own good. Not getting enough classroom time could really ruin a kid’s life.
My article also mentions that a bill to reform Texas’s super-punitive truancy laws has reached Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, following the reported success of an experiment in San Antonio and pressure from a Marshall Project report. Finally, truancy-law reform is looking to become an issue across the political spectrum — but libertarians were there first. (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty).
I’ve got a new post up at Cato about the Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc. The Court’s 8-1 ruling on fairly narrow grounds in favor of the headscarf-wearing claimant isn’t very surprising, for reasons I explain in the piece. The ruling could expose employers to more liability, particularly of the sued-if-you-do, sued-in-you-don’t variety, since it encourages employers to pry into employees’ religious views or adopt stereotyped views about what their religious scruples should be presumed to be. Still, eight Justices were content to resolve the dispute on relatively dry statutory interpretation grounds, with only Justice Clarence Thomas interested in interrogating the law at a more fundamental level. (Why, he wonders, is equal treatment based on non-religious considerations now considered “intentional discrimination” based on religion?)
P.S. More coverage: Daniel Fisher, Daniel Schwartz, Philip Miles. (More: Marci Hamilton.) And when might a National Review author favor limiting private employers’ liberty? When it’s a religious discrimination case.
I’ve got a new post at Cato summarizing dramatic new testimony in the case (briefly noted here last year) of a laboratory company that got reported to the Federal Trade Commission for data breach — and drawn into a crushingly expensive legal battle — after it declined to buy data security services offered by a company with Homeland Security contracts. The battle has been raging for a while, with the nonprofit Washington, D.C. group Cause of Action representing LabMD and outlets like Mother Jones running coverage unsympathetic to its case.
What went wrong with police-community relations in Baltimore, and are there any hopes for improvement? I liked David Simon’s interview on this subject so well that I edited it down into a sort of highlights reel in a Cato at Liberty post.
P.S.: Flashback to this December post: “At least twelve Baltimore cops sought workers’ comp for stress after using deadly force on citizens [Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun/Carroll County Times] And I was a guest on the national Leslie Marshall show Monday, guest-hosted by Newsweek opinion editor Nicholas Wapshott, on the topic of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights.
“I don’t understand how she [Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] can continually say they’re not cooperating,” Michael E. Davey, an attorney for the police union, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. “They are. They did. And they’re lucky they got those statements before I got involved.”
They’re lucky they got those statements before I got involved. That’s a little window into the adversarial relationship between the union representing six Baltimore officers under investigation and city officials charged with determining whether Freddie Gray’s fatal injuries in police custody might have been caused by foul play such as an unbelted “rough ride” in the back of a police van.
Newsweek, and before that the Foundation for Economic Education, have now reprinted a short Cato at Liberty piece in which I describe the operation of Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (LEOBR or LEOBoR) laws, of which Maryland passed the first in the early 1970s, and which have spread to more than a dozen states; in many other localities union contract provisions accomplish some of the same goals. These laws sharply restrain how police forces can pursue misconduct investigations against suspected officers, and officials in Baltimore and elsewhere have repeatedly cited the law as an impediment to investigations of officer misconduct long predating the Freddie Gray incident, including the probe into the enormous scandal of employee misconduct at the state-run Baltimore jail. (I’ve got more at Free State Notes about the local Maryland angle, including the failure of efforts this year in the state legislature to reform the law.)
Radley Balko followed up with a post summarizing my argument and adding an important point, which is that these laws can provide a covert way for departments to sabotage investigations so as to help out fellow officers, by introducing seemingly inadvertent errors that ensure that charges will later have to be thrown out.
In my opinion, conservatives should no more defend LEOBRs than they should defend teacher tenure laws, and for much the same reasons. In response to rising criticism, which has intensified since Gray’s death in custody, police unions have begun a broad effort to shore up support for the laws. The version of my article at FEE, for example, drew a response from a Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police official which you can read here together with my response.
One oft-heard claim that these laws merely give suspected cops the same rights as other suspected citizens. Don’t miss Ken White’s new post at Popehat blowing that argument to smithereens. Equally laughable is the suggestion from union brass that the laws merely put into effect Fifth Amendment or other constitutional rights. While a few cases from the Warren Court era did invent new constitutional constraints on public agencies’ handling of employee investigations, LEOBR laws go far beyond anything in those cases.
Further reading and listening: Ed Krayewski, Reason; Kojo Nnamdi show; New York Times “Room for Debate” roundtable with Prof. Paul Butler, my friend and former Manhattan Institute colleague Heather Mac Donald (the middle-of-the-roader, in this context) and FOP’s Chuck Canterbury. See also my coverage of correctional officers “bill of rights” laws in Maryland, Pennsylvania, etc. here, here, here, and here.
Following the furor over RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) legislation in Indiana and Arkansas this week, I’ve got a new piece in today’s New York Daily News on the emergence of American business as the most influential ally of gay rights. Links to follow up some of the quoted sources: Reuters on Walmart, Tony Perkins/FRC on pieces of silver, Dave Weigel on how public opinion in polls tends to side with the small business owners. I wrote last year on the Arizona mini-RFRA bill vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.
On the social media pile-on against a small-town Indiana pizzeria, see also the thought-provoking column by Conor Friedersdorf (more, Matt Welch). Also recommended on the general controversy: Roger Pilon, Mike Munger/Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and David Henderson on freedom of association, David Brooks on getting along, and Peter Steinfels on liberal pluralism and religious freedom.
Relatedly, Cato has now posted a podcast with my critical views (earlier) of the “Utah compromise” adding sexual orientation as a protected class while also giving employees new rights to sue employers over curbs on discussion of religion and morality in the workplace (h/t: interviewer Caleb Brown). For a view of that compromise more favorable than mine, see this Brookings panel.