Category: Civil Liberties

Gay Marriage Debate Ends

A lot going on today, but the big news is that the Court has upheld gay marriage by a 5-4 vote. With that, the debate over the subject is effectively over. And, as someone who has supported the GOP in the past, I couldn’t be happier. The issue can go away and we can focus on more substantive issues.

More to come.

You should read the opinions. It includes vintage Scalia. But it also includes a very good dissent from Roberts who argues that the problem is not gay marriage; the problem is the way the Court has interpreted the Constitution. It’s quite good and conciliatory. Roberts can drive me nuts sometimes, but I still think he’s one of the best things to come out of the Bush 43 Administration.

The Best of Lee: Kelo Anniversary

Ten years ago today, the Supreme Court issued out of the worst ruling in their history: Kelo v. City of New London, in which justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsberg, Breyer and Stevens decided that it was “public use” for a government to force a citizen to sell his property to a rich developer. Because taxes.

Here’s some choice quotes from the wonderful dissents of Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor. Thomas first:

This deferential shift in phraseology enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation, is for a “public use.”

I cannot agree. If such “economic development” takings are for a “public use,” any taking is, and the Court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution, as Justice O’Connor powerfully argues in dissent.

The consequences of today’s decision are not difficult to predict, and promise to be harmful. So-called “urban renewal” programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted by uprooting them from their homes. Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful.

O’Connor:

Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

The irony is that the deal with Pfizer fell through and Kelo’s former home is still an empty lot.

Lee’s comment was short and brutal:

Personally, I would love to see one of the homes of these justices earmarked for demolition because some douchebag on a city council somewhere has decided that the revenue from a new Wal-Mart Supercenter is more important to the community than the property tax being paid on the land that has been in your family for six generations. Simply disgusting. When the highest court in the land wipes its ass on a concept as fundamental to human liberty and dignity as the right of property there is something seriously wrong with our government.

The government’s assault on property rights has only gotten worse. Yesterday, SCOTUS pushed back a little. But it will not really begin until the Court repudiates Kelo.

Raisins in the Sun

This morning saw the Supreme Court hand down four more decisions. All were important to some degree but the most significant was one I blogged about earlier: Horne v. Department of Agriculture. The Court decided, correctly, that the government taking part of someone’s raisin crop to ostensibly raise the price of raisins was indeed a “taking” under the Constitution and they are entitled to compensation.

Somin:

The Court ruled in favor of the property owners by an 8-1 margin on the most significant issue at stake: whether the government’s appropriation of the raisins is a taking. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

This is an extremely important result, because it rejects the government’s dangerous argument that the Takings Clause offers less protection for personal property than for real property (the legal term for property in land), which had been embraced by the Ninth Circuit lower court decision. For reasons elaborated in detail in an amicus brief I joined along with other constitutional law and property scholars, the government’s position on this issue was deeply at odds with the history and original meaning of the Takings Clause. Indeed, as the Court notes, the Clause was adopted in part as a reaction to abusive British confiscation of personal property during the colonial era and the Revolutionary War.

The government argued that it wasn’t really a taking because if they later sold the raisins, the Hornes would get some of the proceeds. This was clearly nonsense. If I steal your car and later give you a cut of what I got from the chop shop, that doesn’t mean I didn’t steal it in the first place. The justices were a little more divided on how to compensate the Hornes.

This is a big case, though. Somin again:

The ruling also calls into question a number of other similar agricultural cartel schemes run by the federal government. In addition to property owners, consumers of agricultural products are likely to benefit from the decision, if these cartel schemes can no longer operate. Freer competition between producers in these agricultural markets will increase the amount of goods sold, and thereby lower prices. Lowered food prices are of particular benefit to poor and lower-middle class consumers, who generally spend a higher proportion of their income on food than the affluent do.

A few years ago, Robert Levy published a fine book called The Dirty Dozen, detailing some of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the last century. One of them was Wickard v. Filburn, in which a unanimous Court decided that a man growing wheat on his own farm for his own use was intrinsically “interstate commerce”. Wickard is the basis not only of our idiotic farm policy, but the basis of the Court’s expansive view of the commerce clause, including the vile Raich decision.

This doesn’t attack Wickard but it’s the first pushback on agricultural policy in a long time, at least recognizing some limits to the power of the Department of Agriculture. Hopefully, it’s the first in a series of decisions.

More from Mataconis and from McArdle, who cautions against optimism:

However, don’t get too excited, because it doesn’t do too much to limit eminent domain where compensation is offered, or “regulatory takings” in which government rules make your property practically worthless, but not quite so worthless that it has to pay you for the lost potential uses.

Indeed. Our federal government has a tremendous amount of power that has goen well beyond its Constitutional limits. Today, a little bit got pushed back. That’s a good day.

Friday Roundup: Guns, Money and Gag Orders

A few stories to close out your week:

  • Following on Alex’s post on the attempt to squash free speech at Reason, the Best Magazine on the Planet has gotten the gag order lifted and broken their silence. What they relate is appalling. Not only did the USA try to get personal information on Reason’s commenters, they got a gag order to try to prevent Reason from notifying those commenters that the government was seeking their information (Reason had already notified them by the time the order came). It’s a must-read on a government that is determined to shred any semblance of privacy.
  • Earlier this week, Treasury announced that the new $10 bill will have a woman on it, although it’s not clear who that will be or how she will “share” the bill with Alexander Hamilton. As someone who favors a radical overhaul of which faces are on our currency, I’m moderately in favor of this. But I much prefer the idea of putting a woman on the $20 for reasons articulated by Jillian Keenan (namely that Jackson was a racist slaveholding genocidal shredder of the Constitution). Still, there are lots of women we could honor: Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride, Clara Barton. I would take all of these over Jackson. And I wouldn’t mind if we took all the politicians off our currency.
  • How bad was the security at OPM that led to the huge data breach? Really really bad. And they won’t fix it. Change we can believe in!
  • If you’re having trouble finding delicious barbecue, blame government. They are literally outlawing the kind of slow-cooking methods that make for such deliciousness. And it’s not really clear why other than “because they can”.
  • It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Paul Krugman and the Keynesians are full of it again. They are citing Iceland an example of how expansionary fiscal policy can save an economy. The problem? In this thing called reality, Iceland endorsed a severe austerity, with significant spending cuts and tax hikes.
  • The blamestorming for Charleston has already begun. Here is a quick refresher about the media’s desperation to blame horrific acts of violence on the Right Wing.
  • And finally, Reason has a feature on a college student who was busted with pot, turned informant and was murdered. No one is accountable, as usual. I’ll spare you my usual War on Drugs rant, in favor of my other favorite one: when dealing with cops and prosecutors, always get a lawyer. Never negotiate on your own.

Obama Ignores Courts, Constitution, Decency … Again

Good Lord. Can you imagine the outcry if a Republican did this:

The Obama administration has asked a secret surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months.

The legal request, filed nearly four hours after Barack Obama vowed to sign a new law banning precisely the bulk collection he asks the secret court to approve, also suggests that the administration may not necessarily comply with any potential court order demanding that the collection stop.

US officials confirmed last week that they would ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court – better known as the Fisa court, a panel that meets in secret as a step in the surveillance process and thus far has only ever had the government argue before it – to turn the domestic bulk collection spigot back on.

Justice Department national security chief John A Carlin cited a six-month transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act – passed by the Senate last week to ban the bulk collection – as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic dragnet. Carlin did not address whether the transition clause of the Freedom Act still applies now that a congressional deadlock meant the program shut down on 31 May.

So let’s walk through this. The Second Circuit concluded that the Patriot Act did not allow bulk collection of phone records. Congress then passed a law restricting bulk data collection, allowing a six-month transition period. But they did not actually restore Section 215 yet, so it’s a bit in limbo. Obama is now asking the secret FISA court to ignore the Second Circuit and ignore Congress and reauthorize bulk data collection anyway, using the sunset provision in the USA Freedom Act as cover.

I guess we should just trust Obama when he ignores the courts.

If you still doubt that they target their enemies

Then check this story out. Full disclosure. I frequent Reason’s Hit & Run frequently. The fundamental underlying philosophy there – and it is a dead accurate one- is that big government is tyrannical and that the US has right now one of the more tyrannical and corrupt governments to ever hold power in its two hundred year plus history. I am familiar with the post that has now resulted in this attack by the Obama Department of Progressive Taught Enforcement Bureau on the posters, but in particular against the sentiment on the left against this blogs and others like it that have aired this despicable administrations dirty laundry.

The site’s authors and the posters are primarily small government libertarians. It seems the left in this country has decided that the libertarian movement is far more dangerous to it than anything else. Likely because the libertarians have given up on playing nice and take every opportunity to call this despicable administration on its downright criminal behavior instead of trying to place nice with it or their lackeys in the MSM. Libertarians have no problem calling the collectivists on their theft of other people’s money and using that money to buy votes. Libertarians rub the faces of the excuse makers that defend the force used by government under the pretense of doing good in the shit sandwich they so desperately want to force everyone to pretend is a gourmet meal. Libertarians have no problem pointing out that the left’s ludicrous claim that the answer to the plethora of problems caused by an out of control, unaccountable, bloated, ineffective and inefficient, and drunk with power government is to give even more power to that government is downright stupid. And Libertarians and their beliefs, more importantly, are not vulnerable to the usual social issues that have allowed the left to frighten the low information voters and the takers that usually form their base. And the fact of the matter is that more and more republicans see the beliefs of libertarianism as a great thing. In fact, the republican party is now shifting in that direction. And the left wants none of that. Hence the campaign to eradicate this enemy before it gets too big by the bureaucratic machine that serves the left.

People need to wake up. The attempt to silence any and all speech that the masters in power don’t like is on the march in America. It is rampant in colleges. It is all over the news where anyone but a leftist gets harangued and attacked for saying anything the least bit controversial or that the left doesn’t like, while leftists not only get away with lying, cheating, abuses of power, criminal behavior across the board, and much more, but get defended. The various agencies of government are all being used to target political and other enemies of the left and those in power. From the IRS to the EPA, these powerful entities are all targeting the “Enemies of the state” (the state being the left). Most of the low information voters on the left right now loves this because they are stupid enough to believe these tactics helps them and their cause, but sooner than later most leftists will also find themselves on the opposite side of this machine, and then they will realize nobody is left to help them.

Dark times are ahead, and we are all willingly letting these evil people do it to us. Wake up.

The IRS Lies, Steals, Extorts

Why do we need to outlaw asset forfeiture without trial? Why do we need to abolish structuring laws? Why do we need to burn the IRS down and salt the Earth?

This is why:

Last October, in response to the outrage provoked by “structuring” cases in which the government took people’s money because their bank deposits were too small, the IRS said it would no longer do that unless there was evidence that the money came from an illegal source. In March the Justice Department announced a similar policy for seizures based on structuring, which entails making deposits of less than $10,000 with the intent of evading bank reporting requirements. Yet both the IRS and the DOJ are continuing to pursue the forfeiture of $107,000 that belongs to Lyndon McLellan, the owner of a convenience store in rural North Carolina, based on nothing but suspicion of structuring.

As in other structuring cases, McLellan lost his money because of well-intentioned but bad advice from a bank teller. The teller told McLellan’s niece, who usually handled L&M Convenience Mart’s deposits, she could save the bank burdensome paperwork by keeping the deposits below $10,000, the reporting threshold. Based on the resulting pattern of deposits, the IRS cleaned out McLellan’s bank account a year ago, even though there was no evidence that the money came from anything other than his perfectly legal business, which combines a store with a gas station and restaurant. The Institute for Justice, which is suing the IRS and the DOJ on McLellan’s behalf, notes that “the government filed its forfeiture complaint in December 2014, two months after the IRS announced it would not forfeit money in cases like this one.”

Reminder: when Elliot Spitzer, who had prosecuted people for structuring, structured payments to his madam to avoid detection, he wasn’t punished at all. This law is frequently applied to people who can’t afford to fight it or make a ruckus. The only reason McLellan can fight this is because the IJ — one of the more singularly awesome organizations in the country — is fighting on his behalf.

It gets worse. North Carolina congressman George Holding grilled the IRS commissioner about this case. This pissed off the federal prosecutor. You see, the warrant is under seal by the court. Ostensibly, this is to “protect” the defendant but in reality it protects the government from having their scumbag behavior exposed (see here for where these seals have been used to silence Scott Walker supporters when they have been subjected to midnight raids and fishing expeditions to try to find some evidence … any evidence … of wrong-doing). Similar gag orders were used to try to silence the late Siobhan Reynolds when she opposed government efforts to crack down on pain-killer use.

Of course, when sealed records are leaked by prosecutors — such as when Barry Bond’s sealed testimony in the BALCO case was leaked — no one cares.

Anyway, the prosecutor’s response has to be read to be believed:

I’m a bit concerned. At your request, I provided you a copy of the application for seizure warrant, which remains under seal with the Court, and now it appears it has been made available to a congressional committee? I do not know who did that, and I am accusing no one, but it was not from our office and could only have come from your clients. That was certainly not my intent in making this available. My intent was for you and your clients to be able to actually know the facts so you could review them and have an intelligent discussion with me. Whoever made it public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case.

Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency.

Not unreasonable. But … wait for it.

My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.

In other words, “shut the hell up and we’ll give you back the half the money”. And remember, if it weren’t for the support he’s receiving from the IJ, this would likely be the best outcome for McClellan.

A few weeks ago, John Oliver — whose commentary I normally find funny and occasional insightful — defended the IRS. He pointed out, correctly, that they didn’t make the tax law so ridiculously byzantine and that they barely have the resources to deal with the ungodly mess Congress has handed to them. He pointed out that for every dollar we spend on the IRS, we get six back. I don’t find it particularly persuasive since that means more money extracted from our citizens (sometimes in error and frequently at the expense of people like McClellan, who can’t afford to fight).

But this illustrates perfectly why people hate the IRS and the prosecutorial machinery that surrounds them. This is an agency that once had “Seizure Fever — Catch It!” posters printed up. This is an agency that zealously uses the unconstitutional powers Congress gives them. This is an agency that has happily complied with Presidential requests for targeted political audits and harassment. And now it is an agency that lied about what they were doing, seized someone’s assets and threatened him when he went public with it.

So yeah, we need to burn the tax code down. Yes, we need to pass laws to stop asset forfeiture — it’s clear that we can’t rely on the agencies to do it on their own. But once we do that, we also need to tear down the IRS and replace it with something else. They are too used to using and abusing the power our Congress and our Courts have stupidly given them.

Don’t Silence Mumia

Last year, the State of Pennsylvania passed the Revictimization Relief Act, a bill designed to allow crime victims to sue if criminals engage in speech that causes them mental anguish. Perhaps the best way to illustrate what the law is about is to look at why it was passed: Mumia Abu-Jamal had given the commencement address at Goddard College. He gave this via videotape because Abu-Jamal is in prison for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. And Faulkner’s family is getting a little tired of seeing his murderer bruited about as some great public intellectual.

Let’s get one thing straight: I think Mumia is guilty as hell. Faulkner was shot by a gun consistent with Mumia’s revolver, which had fired five shots and was found next to him. Mumia was himself shot by Faulkner. Four witnesses placed him at the scene. To believe Mumia is innocent, you have to believe … actually, I’m not sure what you have to believe because the theories of his innocence make no sense and Mumia has not given a consistent account of what happened. Maybe a one-armed man ran in, grabbed Mumia’s gun, shot the cop and left.

The protestations of his innocence revolve around him being an intellectual and a supposedly peaceful man. That’s as maybe but anyone is capable of murder. We don’t convict people of murder because they’re the kind of people who would probably kill someone and we don’t acquit because it’s, like, totally not like them to gun down a cop. I tend to focus my attention on the evidence, which was and is damning.

I also have little time for Mumia’s supporters. It’s not just that they lavish praise and support on him (and, in some cases abuse on Faulkner’s widow and accusations of corruption against Faulkner). It’s that they do so while ignoring the hundreds of innocent people who have languished in prison and on death row for decades but aren’t celebrities.

That all having been said, the Pennsylvania law crosses me as blatantly unconstitutional. And it was struck down by a federal court this week. Volokh and Randazza have a breakdown of the decision. Bottom line:

First Amendment protection extends to convicted felons. The Act is in violation of the First Amendment as it is content based, overbroad, and vague in its coverage of “offenders” and speech “conduct.” Victims have other forms of redress and can use their own free speech to combat that of inmates.

Call Mumia a murderer. I’ll do that right now: he’s a murderer. Call the school that invited him to do their commencement idiots. I’ll do that, too: they’re idiots. But restraint of his speech and those who want to promote his speech is wrong and unconstitutional. As we like to say, it’s the speech you hate that needs the most protection.

Revising Finders Keepers

Much like the death penalty, asset forfeiture laws have been mangled, compromised, bastardized and manipulated to the point that they are unrecognizable to original intend. And as such, much like the death penalty, something I supported until its current application made it unworkable and a mockery to anything remotely resembling justice, asset forfeiture laws (AFL) have been abused to the point of being an enemy to individual civil liberty, and also a mockery of justice. Too bad, since the original intend was both noble and just, namely to deprive convicted criminals of their ill gotten gains, and who could argue with that? If a meth dealer was stopped on the highway for speeding, carrying several pounds of the illegal drug along with 50 grand in cash, the idea was that if the property (the cash and his brand new Benz) could be linked to the crime (say he hasn’t held a real job in 3 years and has been living on public assistance), then upon conviction he loses these items, tough luck sucker. But alas, greed and laziness came in to the picture, police agencies would seize property, anything they could grab, upon arrest (not conviction) even with a tenuous link between property and crime. Innocent people were getting screwed because cash starved public agencies wanted their stuff and had a legal avenue to steal it.

Enter the top choice (so far) for the VP slot on the next GOP presidential ticket, NM governor Susan Martinez, who just grabbed some low hanging fruit and made herself even more relevant;

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill to abolish civil asset forfeiture Friday.

She signed just before the noon deadline that would have pocket vetoed the legislation.

“As an attorney and career prosecutor, I understand how important it is that we ensure safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights,” Martinez said in a letter announcing her decision. “On balance, the changes made by this legislation improve the transparency and accountability of the forfeiture process and provide further protections to innocent property owners.”

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where police can seize your property and keep it even if they don’t convict or charge you with a crime. Then, you must go through the difficult, and often unsuccessful process to get your property–whether it’s a vehicle, cash or your home–back from the police.

No, she is not abolishing the entire practice, nor do I think she should, just bringing it back to the original intent. Even the ACLU is on board (wait a minute, maybe we should rethink this).

Requiring demonstrable facts linking the crime to the property (no more, “Well, he was in the vicinity, good enough”) independently reviewed by an Appeals Board before anything can be seized, then holding said property in “Trust” until any convictions, yes, we are getting closer to what the law as actually written to do.

No doubt many would like all AFL abolished in toto, anymore end arounds or subverting intent and we just might go that route.

AFL, like the death penalty, should be used judicially and sparingly, under the spotlight of public review, both serve a purpose. Guys like that turd Tsarnaev and Maj. Hasan, I want them dead. And not 25 years from now dead. justice delayed in justice denied, a year appeals max, then give them the cocktail.

There Should Always Be Freedom in OU

Over the weekend, you may have seen the video of the SAE fraternity at the University Oklahoma singing a racist song about how there would never be black SAE. Well, they were right about that. There never will be a black SAE. This is because the University responded to the video by dissolving the chapter of the frat and expelling two of the students.

The former decision is right and proper, I think. However, I’m having serious problems with the latter. And so are a lot of people:

The University of Oklahoma’s decision to expel two fraternity members who led a racist chant on a bus provoked criticism Wednesday from several legal experts who said that the students’ words, however odious, were protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

“The courts are very clear that hateful, racist speech is protected by the First Amendment,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine.

Official punishment for speech could be legal if the students’ chant constituted a direct threat, leading a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, or if it seemed likely to provoke an immediate violent response, according to Mr. Chemerinsky and several other legal scholars, liberal and conservative alike.

But in this case, these experts said, there is no evidence of any direct threat or provocation, and as a publicly financed institution, the university is subject to constitutional boundaries.

I’ve seen similar commentary all over the blogosphere. First Amendment badass Mark Randazza:

I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether I approve of it or not. (I don’t, but that’s all I’ll say about it). You have the right to be racist. I want that freedom. But, somewhere along the way, we decided that eliminating bad thoughts is more important than freedom.

Like it or not, these kids were expressing a political and social opinion. I do not care if you agree with it or not. They have a First Amendment right to freedom of association – that means they can be in a private club that says “no niggers allowed.” I can’t say that I would want to belong to such a club, but the KKK and the American Nazi Party not only have a right to exist, but serve a valuable function — even if that function is only to serve as a negative example.

Further, they have a right to express themselves — even with views that you might find abhorrent. That’s what freedom is.

Several scholars have argued that the song constitute an action and “threat”. I’ll let Scott Greenfield take that one, referencing the famous Skokie cases where the ACLU defended the free speech rights of Nazis:

These SAE boys don’t deserve the protection of the First Amendment, any more than the neo-Nazis in Skokie did. But we don’t do it for them. We do it for us. We do it because speech is either protected for all or protected for none.

There are no wiggly lines that allow us to find some sneaky back-door around the protections of the First Amendment. There is no combination of words expressing our feelings about the relative worth of rights, the relative horror of flagrantly racist speech, the unworthiness of expression, that allows us to shed the protection of the First Amendment when we feel so strongly that it should not be provided. This is precisely when the protections of the Constitution must kick in, must apply, must be upheld in the face of our strongest feelings that we don’t want it to.

You can read more from Eugene Volokh and Doug Mataconis, who get into the Constitutional issues. As a public university, the University of Oklahoma is bound to respect the free speech rights of their students. And the attempt to end-around the First Amendment by claiming a racist song constitutes an “action” is offensive. Greenwald had this to say, albeit in a different context:

We’ve said it a million times: free speech isn’t just for speech we like. It’s for speech we hate. It’s for speech that offends us. It’s for speech that shocks the senses. But more than that: I want the bigots of the world1 to feel like they can say what they want. Which do you think is better? A society in which racists go underground? Or a society in which the ugliness be out and open for everyone to see? When I was a kid, some anti-semitic bigots burned a cross on the lawn of my synagogue. That was much scarier and more dangerous than a bunch of KKK jerks marching along the highway.

It’s become common to refer to incidents like this as “teachable moments”. Maybe. But if it is, the lesson being taught is the wrong one. The lesson is that we will punish speech we don’t like.

The other day, the ACLU took another unpopular stand: defending the free speech rights of the Washington Redskins. In doing so, they quoted the great sage Jeffrey Lebowski: “you’re not wrong; you’re just an asshole”:

The ACLU has a history of defending the speech rights of groups we disagree with, because the First Amendment doesn’t protect only popular ideas. The Washington team’s choice of name is unfortunate. They should be – and are being – pressured to change it. But it isn’t government’s role to pick and choose which viewpoints are acceptable and which are not.

Readmit the students, OU. Make this a teachable moment. And the lesson to teach is that free speech applies to everyone, including assholes.


1. Putting aside whether these students are actual bigots or are just drunken idiots singing a dumbass song.

Update: Jamelle Bouie

As far as the University of Oklahoma is concerned, I should say I’m not thrilled with the punishment. Disbanding the fraternity might be justified, but expelling students for hate speech is an extreme response that runs afoul of free-speech norms, if not the First Amendment.

Education would be better. The University of Oklahoma is two hours away from Tulsa, which in 1921 was the site of one of the worst anti-black race riots in American history. More than a thousand whites stormed the black district of Tulsa and razed it to the ground, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless and destitute. Black Tulsa never recovered, but memories of the attack live on among descendants of the victims.

Don’t expel the boys. Bring them to Tulsa. Have them see the memorials and talk to the children of survivors. Give them a chance to see what their words actually mean, and whether they want to be the kinds of people who sing about lynching for fun.

Indeed.