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Early Indications of Legalized Prostitution?

Although I’m pretty sure state Democrat Representative Anastasia Williams, of Providence, has introduced this legislation in the past, with the possible legalization of marijuana this year, it’s worth mentioning.  As Ian Donnis reports for the Public’s Radio:

A Rhode Island lawmaker believes the state’s laws governing sex work are too punitive and she wants to create a 12-member commission to review possible changes. …

According to a bill introduced by Williams, H5354, “Criminalization of prostitution disproportionately impacts women, transgender individuals and people of color.” Her legislation points to findings showing that decriminalizing prostitution can improve public safety and public health.

If Williams’ envisioned legislative commission moves ahead, it would face a February 2020 deadline for reporting its findings.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, there’s a reason Pottersville — the alternate reality in It’s a Wonderful Life in which the movie’s hero had never been born — combines drugs, gambling, and prostitution.  As I’ve also suggested before, it would be one thing to arrive at this state of affairs because our culture and our respect for liberty had become stronger, because then it would have implicit safeguards for individuals and the community as a whole.

As it is, we’re seeing the government move into areas that used to be the province of organized crime, largely for the same reasons: money and power.

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A Consequence of Faceless Bureaucracy Using Cold Data

Back in the sunny days before many people had even heard about the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), let alone before it was a byword for the Ocean State’s dysfunctional government, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity was warning about a “dependency portal.”

The idea behind the system is that state government will consolidate the information it collects for every type of welfare benefit and program it operates.  That information would be updated in an ongoing way, and people will automatically receive any benefits for which they are newly eligible.

Of course, the flip side is that people would also automatically lose any benefits for which they are no longer eligible.  Moreover, nobody should believe that politicians and bureaucrats would not find other uses for this treasure trove of information.

Turn, now, to Elizabeth Brico’s commentary on Talk Poverty:

… after decades of collecting this data, the government is putting it to use. This information is feeding algorithms that decide everything from whether or not you get health insurance to how much time you spend in jail. Increasingly, it is helping determine whether or not parents get to keep their kids.

When someone phones in a report of suspected child abuse — usually to a state or county child abuse hotline — a call screener has to determine whether the accusation merits an actual investigation. Sometimes they have background information, such as prior child welfare reports, to assist in their decision-making process, but often they have to make snap determinations with very little guidance besides the details of the immediate report. There are more than 7 million maltreatment reports each year, and caseworkers get overwhelmed and burn out quickly — especially when a serious case gets overlooked. New algorithms popping up around the country review data points available for each case and suggest whether or not an investigation should be opened, in an attempt to offset some of the individual responsibility placed on case workers.

Admittedly, I get the impression I wouldn’t agree with some of Brico’s broader assumptions and prescriptions, but empowering a faceless bureaucratic system to intervene intimately in people’s lives based on cold data is a frightening idea on its face.

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The Center’s Perspective on So-Called “Fair Housing” Legislation

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse offers the Center’s view on legislation that would limit landlords’ right to decide whether the way potential tenants’ will pay their rent should be a factor in deciding whether to rent to them, including a mandate to accept Section 8 vouchers:

Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.

Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.

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When the Taxman Decides What’s Creative

Well, this minor controversy looks pretty obvious to me:

The dispute centers on the sales tax exemption that state law provides writers, composers and artists residing in Rhode lsland who sell their own “original and creative work.”

Much to the dismay of nonfiction writers like the prolific Paul Caranci — the former North Providence councilman who went undercover for the FBI — the state tax department has decided that nonfiction does not qualify as an “original″ work of art, eligible for an exemption from Rhode Island’s 7 percent sales tax.

The ACLU is on the case, arguing that the Division of Taxation should not be authorized to judge literary works for their creativity.  A much more obvious line could be drawn between books and, say, “works for hire,” or generally technical documents drafted as part of a job.  (Of course, it’s difficult to see why such works would become subject to the sales tax, anyway.)

If only the ACLU would broaden its views, though.  If the government cannot differentiate non-fiction from fiction, how can it differentiate political non-fiction from other forms?  That is, campaign finance regulations, particularly those requiring the publication of the financial backers of a publisher (so to speak) cannot be applied only to a particular type of speech.

Jessica Botelho writes on the efforts of Nichole and Tyler Rowley to put a spotlight on the misdirected thinking behind the presentation of abortion as an untrammeled right.

Me, Still Me, and the Time of Choosing

Jessica Botelho writes on the efforts of Nichole and Tyler Rowley to put a spotlight on the misdirected thinking behind the presentation of abortion as an untrammeled right:

Nichole Rowley, a mother of two, said she and her husband, Tyler, recently received a card from Gov. Gina Raimondo. The delivery marked six months since Rowley gave birth to their second son, Fulton.

“The card expressed the joy of having children, but the sentiment didn’t make sense coming from Governor Raimondo,” Rowley told NBC 10 News in an email. “If children are such a special gift, as the card claims, why does she offer those children no rights before they are born?” …

After hearing [Governor Raimondo support abortion legislation in her State of the State speech], Rowley said she and Tyler decided to mail the governor back the card, along with a card of their own, plus two photos inside: a picture of Fulton at 12 weeks in the womb, and another of him a few hours after birth. The words, “Me, Still me,” were printed across the photos.

The idea that our Catholic governor needs reminding of such an elementary concept — now fully visible through modern technology — is a travesty and a scandal.  She and other politicians of her ilk, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, ought to be informed of their excommunication for the good of their own souls as much as those whom they corrupt.

They like to claim that they aren’t pro-abortion, but pro-choice.  Well, when their fellow Democrat governor is out there excusing infanticide, we are clearly all in a time of choosing.  Life or death… pick one.  Nihilism or morality… pick one.  Choose.

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Race-Obsessed Policy Generates Race-Based Differences

So, here’s a must-read research paper for legislators as they try to conform our world to the vision in their heads:

Mounting empirical research shows that race-preferential admissions policies are doing more harm than good. Instead of increasing the numbers of African Americans entering high-status careers, these policies reduce those numbers relative to what we would have had if colleges and universities had followed race-neutral policies. We have fewer African-American scientists, physicians, and engineers and likely fewer lawyers and college professors. If, as the evidence indicates, the effects of race-preferential admissions policies are exactly the opposite of what was originally intended, it is difficult to understand why anyone would wish to support them.

Basically, the mechanism that brings about this outcome, according to the paper’s author, Gail Heriot, is that giving preference to underrepresented applicants based on their non-academic qualities places students in environments for which they are not adequately prepared and matches them with students with whom they might not be able to compete.

These sort of unintended consequences arise with all sorts of politically correct policies.  One that comes to mind is the “ban the box” push to forbid employers from asking applicants whether they’ve ever been convicted of crimes.  Studies are finding that preventing employers from asking a straightforward question for information they feel they need leads them to use less-direct methods that wind up hurting racial minorities, rather than helping them.

How long until our society decides that the best route to equality is to stop writing racial distinctions into the law and to stop trying to drive racism out of our minds by banning questions that may (or may not) be correlated with it?

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Governor Raimondo’s Anti-Boy Consistency

Not to pick on her, but here again a reader can’t help but wonder whether Providence Journal reporter Madeleine List was entirely unable to find anybody who could explain the contrary position to her:

Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island’s postsecondary education commissioner announced their opposition on Wednesday to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposed changes to the federal civil-rights law that protects people from discrimination based on sex.

In a letter to DeVos, Raimondo and Commissioner Brenda Dann-Messier said the proposed changes would impede Rhode Island higher-education institutions’ ability to implement protections under the law, known as Title IX. …

“The proposed changes to existing Title IX guidance can only be construed as a misguided effort to reduce the reporting burden placed on educational institutions and protect the accused at the expense of the victim,” the letter says. “Sadly, the reality is that the proposed changes will further traumatize victims in the very environments that are meant to prepare and inspire them for successful careers and lives.”

The way these rules have been implemented under guidance from the Obama administration has tended to make victims of young men, stripping them of due process rights.  That’s not something that can be left out of a news story… unless it’s really just advocacy.

On the substance, nobody should be surprised that a governor who hosts an annual contest that discriminates against school boys would also oppose due process rights for young men.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

The Strange Assertions of Abortion Advocates

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women’s ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about “reproductive health care.”  Reproductive of what?

So much of the pro-abortion argument requires distortion of the language and concepts that are involved.  Why that is should be obvious.  The other day, a progressive state senator from Providence, Gayle Goldin, and Providence Journal reporter Katnerine Gregg responded to news that a judge had struck down an Iowa law restricting abortion when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, implying that it’s a concern because it may give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to address the question of abortion.

Think of the underlying issue.

This law that is, at the moment, arguably unconstitutional essentially states that if an unborn child is so provably unique from the mother as to have his or her own heartbeat, a doctor can’t suck out his or her brain, tear him or her limb from limb, or otherwise kill the child (presumably except to save the life of the mother).  When that’s the fact of the act, the only way to maintain support has got to be to misdirect attention some other way.

Activists at the Rhode Island State House, the other day, emphasized minorities’ access to abortion, but starting from a different perspective paints a very different picture.  Something around 8% of Rhode Island’s population is black, but they account for some 16% of abortions.  Abortion kills black babies at about twice the rate that it kills white babies in the Ocean State.

A chart from the Guttmacher Institute shows that minorities, especially black non-Hispanics, have much higher abortion rates than white non-Hispanics, yet the claim of the chart is that “lack of access to health insurance and health care plays a role, as do racism and discrimination,” in abortion rates that vary by race.   Is Guttmacher, which is associated with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that racism leads to the higher rates, or is it suggesting that, but for racism and discrimination, the United States would have even higher rates for killing black babies.

That’s what the Providence activists would seem to be suggesting when they talk about “access.”  Pursuing policies that would keep a significant portion of a minority population alive is a strange kind of bigotry.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

A Rationale for Expanding Janus

In the continuing pursuit of worker freedom, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit to clarify (or, I guess, expand) the recent Janus v. AFSCME ruling to railway and airline employees.

Janus found that government employees could not be required to pay for union representation if they were not members of the unions that bargained for their workplaces.  The specific legal question in the new case is whether the Railway Labor Act extends those rights.

I haven’t reviewed the legal reasoning to be able to explain why the Railway Labor Act makes the difference.  The point in Janus, as I understand it, was that unions negotiating with government are inherently producing political speech, even when they simply negotiate contracts.

But one of the plaintiffs in the case, Lin Rizzo-Rupon seems to make the case that the right not to join unions should be universal:

“It’s my money. I don’t feel that I should be required to pay someone to protect my job,” said Rizzo-Rupon. “We now have laws to take care of our health and safety in the workplace. I don’t think I should be paying taxes to the government that’s protecting me and then also be paying these mandatory fees to a union for those same protections.”

If the point is that the Railway Labor Act affords protections to the worker, then all workplace or labor standards would apply.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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CORRECTED: Question of Progressive Legislation

CORRECTION (1:10 p.m., 1/12/19): Contrary to my original reading of this legislation, it does contain language making some provision for the transport of rifles and shotguns.  A paragraph running longer than a page exempts various people (mostly law enforcement and military personnel) from its provisions.  About three-quarters of the way through this paragraph, it exempts the “regular and/or ordinary transportation” of the weapons “as merchandise.  The exemption also allows transportation of the weapons unloaded and either in a trunk or a locked container.

This language does make the following post overly aggressive.  However, the bill is still deeply problematic.  Not only does it further infringe on the rights of gun owners, but its exceptions have giant gaps.  The allowable transport of firearms are very specific:  from the place of purchase to home, back and forth to their place of business, or to sell it or have it repaired.

Notably, the exemption still doesn’t include transportation to any sort of shooting range, let alone simply carrying the weapon for the purpose of having it available.  In short, the legislation would completely undermine a key purpose for enforcing the Second Amendment.  It would limit the use of rifles and shotguns to sport (presumably) and protection of the home or place of business.  Any use for the protection of one’s self or others in any other location would essentially be banned.

ORIGINAL POST (6:31 p.m. 1/8/19):

I see only three possibilities when it comes to legislation like H5022, which Democrat Representative Grace Diaz has already submitted for consideration. Either I’m missing something, the radicals are trying to sneak truly outrageous civil rights violations into law, or they just don’t read or think through the legislation they submit.

Here’s the new language the sponsors wish to insert into Rhode Island law:

No person shall carry a rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about the person whether visible or concealed, except in the persons dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by the person. Every person violating the provisions of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both, except on a first conviction under this section, the person shall not be eligible for a suspended or deferred sentence or probation. This subsection shall not apply to those persons engaged in lawful hunting activity as provided in chapter 13 of title 20, lawful target shooting within this state or otherwise exempt …

So here’s a question: How is a person who has purchased a rifle or shotgun supposed to get it on to his or her own land?  There are no exceptions for transporting these firearms.

Again, either I’m missing something, some of our legislators are unable to foresee even the most obvious side effects of their proposals, or they aren’t side effects at all, and the legislators are hoping to slip unconstitutional language into law thanks to other people’s failure to pay attention or their belief that the sponsors couldn’t possibly mean what they’re saying.

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Another Union Case in the Supreme Court Pipeline

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has signaled its support for the plaintiff in another union-related case, Kathleen Uradnik, a university professor in Minnesota:

This Uradnik case challenges state laws that appoint a union to represent and speak for all workers, even those who disagree with it – an arrangement known as “exclusive representation.”

Uradnik, who has had major disputes with her faculty’s labor union, which has discriminated against her, is nonetheless required by state law to associate with it and to allow it to speak for her. Rhode Island has similar laws imposing exclusive representation upon public employees, limiting their freedoms and opportunities for advancement.

Owing to the Janus v. AFSCME case, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year, government employees can no longer be forced to pay union dues.  Uradnik would free them of association with unions, allowing them to represent, and negotiate for, themselves, or to hire some other party to do so.

Right now, unions have a government-enforced monopoly over each workplace, usually voted into existence by employees years, even decades, ago.  That isn’t right, and it distorts the labor markets, the operation of our government, and (as Rhode Islanders know all too well) the balance of our politics.

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Just Shy of Illegal Voting

Monica Showalter describes some of the activities in California on the cutting edge of vote harvesting:

The [Los Angeles] Times describes how California’s famed ballot-harvesters, who flipped places such as Orange County blue by “helping” fill out, turn in, and continue to turn in ballots from otherwise uncommitted voters until they got the result they wanted, aren’t actually U.S. citizens. Here are the DREAMers in action, “helping” the voters to vote the way they wanted. …

The story doesn’t say what the DREAMer/ballot-harvester would do if the voter decided to vote some other way from the way she wanted him to fill his ballot out. The incurious reporter omitted the obvious question from that heart-tugging scene: Did this foreigner tell the indifferent man how to fill out his ballot? Let’s just say the reporter showed a strong interest, based on the rest of her reportage, in protecting the foreigner from any accusation of illegal voting.

This raises interesting questions about illegal immigrants’ involvement in our electoral system.  To be sure, some on the Left want these folks to able to vote, but even many who don’t go that far would surely not want to block them from civic engagement.

Showalter gives some sense of the risk by changing the immigration context:

… if DREAMers can do that to promote their own political agenda, what’s to stop other foreigners, with far more malign agendas, from doing it? Shall a team of Russian or Chinese agents, Arab terrorists, or Mexican cartels, be next to help harvest the ballots? (You know the Chinese are thinking about it.) They’re as foreign as DREAMers, and it would be perfectly legal under current California law. Ballot-harvesting, which is illegal in most states, makes this all possible. What’s to stop the Chinese from running an agent (as recent CIA busts show, it doesn’t need to be a Chinese-American) and then sending their goons and agents to the houses of Chinese-American voters in Chinese-American neighborhoods, to insist that they vote for Beijing’s candidate? They’d have the additional pull of being able to warn those voters about repercussions against family back home and don’t think they wouldn’t dream of using it.

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How Campaign Finance Laws Really Affect Campaign Finance

So many of the differences between us that people take as black-and-white indicators of good versus evil amount to a difference in how people look at problems.  As a general proposition, liberals/progressives see a problem and seek to put something in place to fix it, while conservatives tend to prefer changing incentives so that the system fixes the problem itself.

Campaign finance is a particularly enlightening example of this distinction.  The Left wants to create laws and reporting requirements that force politicians into the straight and narrow, while the Right wants to reduce the size of government, spread out its authority, and implement reforms that make it less valuable to bribe politicians in the first place.

A recent Washington Examiner editorial gives some explanation of the ways that the progressives’ approach can have unintended consequences.  It describes how a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg (or, say, Donald Trump) can step into a race and instantly be an intimidating contender because he or she can put as much personal wealth into the race as can be spent, while campaign finance laws push candidates who are only millionaires (or less) into the arms of lobbyists and bundlers:

Perhaps Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would propose curbing Bloomberg’s ability to spend on his own campaign, but the Supreme Court wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate a law restricting how much of your own money you may spend to ask people to vote for you.

Here’s a better proposal for any progressive out there who doesn’t want billionaire candidates to start with a huge advantage. Our idea could instantly abolish the position of lobbyist bundler, and it might make dark money and super PACs a thing of the past.

Here it is: Abolish the limit on individual contributions. If Bloomberg can get a million-dollar check from himself, Harris should be able to get a million-dollar check from Steyer, and Biden should be able to call up his former boss, former President Barack Obama, for a million.

If millionaires and billionaires are all on the same side, they’ll dominate our politics anyway.  Since they are not in lockstep with each other, our system should allow other candidates to attract their donations.  It should also allow people who are able to donate just a little bit more than the current limits to do so.

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The Evolution of a Strip

For readers elsewhere in Rhode Island, WPRI’s brief report about a Fall River store now approved for retail sale of recreational marijuana may not provide a sufficient picture:

The Cannabis Control Commission approved the final retail license for Northeast Alternatives on Thursday during a meeting in Boston.

Northeast Alternatives currently sells medical cannabis at its location on William S. Canning Blvd., a short distance from the border with Tiverton, Rhode Island.

To be more specific, this pot shop is a short distance from the new casino in Tiverton.  The image that begins to come to mind is that of Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Also in the news, lately, has been the arrest of some Foxy Lady employees for prostitution.  With state governments’ pursuing the strategy of making vices legal in order to profit from them, one can’t help but wonder on which side of the border the brothel will go when state coffers continue to run low.

To be clear, this wonderment should not be taken as a comment on the loosening of any of these laws in particular.  We should, however, question this new way of looking at government’s relationship to our liberties and address these changes with open eyes.

The flip side of not believing that government should make everything bad illegal is realizing that not everything legal is desirable.  Our social and political processes can figure out where those lines are for any given topic or any particular location, but our decisions will be distorted if we legalize vices for the reason that government can profit from them.

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Harvesting Votes to Collect Power

In Rhode Island we’ve been watching a relentless push for early voting, emergency mail ballots, and so on — anything to increase the count of people voting.  One might wonder (although nobody asks) who really benefits when we all but force people to vote when they aren’t motivated or especially well informed, but there we are.

A question that is popping up around the country, however, is how much fraud we’re inviting into the system.  Eric Eggers gives the question a look for RealClear Investigations:

America’s electoral obsession isn’t Russian meddling anymore. It’s ballot-harvesting, a long-disputed practice implicated in fraud that’s come to the fore with the nationwide embrace of absentee voting in recent years — and especially in last month’s midterms.

With ballot-harvesting, paper votes are collected by intermediaries who deliver them to polling officials, presumably increasing voter turnout but also creating opportunities for mischief.

Particularly telling is a video out of California in which a doorbell camera catches a woman saying that she’s there to pick up a ballot, a service (she says) only available to people who support the Democrat candidates.  Rhode Island campaigns have been sending out notary publics to help voters finalize their ballots and then bring them in.  One suspects they know whom they are targeting for this special treatment.

One needn’t be a cynic to see this development as an opportunity for cheating, or at least a massive advantage to the candidates with the most money, whether they collected that money through partisan leverage, wealthy donors, or special interests.

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The Ambiguous Middle in the General Assembly

I’m not sure if the Providence Journal’s Political Scene crew is right to summarize the General Assembly’s left-right divide based solely on abortion and gun rights, but the reported numbers do raise an interesting question: Are the relatively conservative legislative leaders on the edge of a progressive precipice, or are the legislators whose views aren’t explicitly known more conservative than they want to show in floor votes, thereby exposing themselves to progressive attack?

Cranston Republican Steven Frias seems to think the former:

Frias said his own analysis of the ratings suggests that “Mattiello is in the minority among House Democrats on abortion and guns, which helps explain why [he] has dropped the ‘firewall’ rhetoric.”

“Mattiello’s dilemma is whether to allow a floor vote where representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience on legislation related to abortion and guns. Regardless of what he decides, someone will feel duped,″ either the “House liberals … [or] the cultural conservatives who backed [him] for reelection thinking he would be the ‘firewall’ on abortion and guns.”

Frias’ argument: “If Mattiello betrays his culturally conservative constituents it would be a signal to cultural conservatives that they cannot rely on the Democratic House leadership and they should vote Republican in General Assembly races.”

A corresponding dilemma faces quiet conservatives. As long as legislators are allowed to remain fuzzy on these issues, relatively conservative constituents will continue to rely on the good graces of “firewalls” like Mattiello. An unambiguous understanding of the danger would be clarifying as people make their decisions as voters, volunteers, and donors.

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The Constitutional Importance of Our Legislators’ Authority

Rhode Island has had lengthy debates about who, outside of the legislature, should have authority to judge what our state representatives and senators do in their official capacity, and few questioned whether that sort of protection belonged in the state constitution. Yet, nobody has yet suggested that legislators deserve the same level of protection from the abuses of other legislators, specifically when it comes to the House and Senate rules.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is signing on to calls for rules that reduce the power of legislative leaders and give it back to legislators, but with the caveat that it ought to happen where new factions can’t change the rules back if they take control:

In calling for a dual-legislative track, the Center’s primary objective is to ensure that elected Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership.

The first piece of legislation would immediately implement certain reforms for the 2019 General Assembly session, while the second piece would call for a ballot-referendum in 2020, whereby voters could approve codification of those reforms into the Rhode Island constitution.

The political Left, in particular, has exhibited a tendency to back individual rights until such time as Leftists are able to impose their preferred regime, at which point individual dissent suddenly becomes illegitimate. With legislative rules, as with our rights, we should move them as far out of reach as possible while we still have some semblance of representative democracy.

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A Little Sleight of Hand from Gorbea

It can be interesting what politicians believe to be valid explanations.  I’m thinking of this, from a press release put out by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:

The argument that the omission of birth day and month information could encumber a third-party analysis of the voter registration database is unfounded. In fact, less than 0.5% of the roughly 790,000 voter records share the same full name and year of birth.

One almost has to admire how slyly this misses the point. That’s 0.5% of voters in RI alone.  How many Rhode Island voters share a name and birth year with other voters across the country.  That’s a key question.

Even putting that aside, though, the Providence Journal points out that this percentage means there are around 4,000 Rhode Islanders who have the same name and birth year.  Anybody from Rhode Island or out of state who would like to check on those 4,000 folks would have to travel to the Secretary of State’s office and sit at a special terminal with who-knows-what actual functionality.  (Will it be able to print or save files to thumb drives?)  Surely Gorbea understands that every step that people are required to take means significantly fewer will do them.  This applies to an extra click on the Internet, let alone traveling to a special computer somewhere.

If her goal were really to protect voters from identity theft, Gorbea had much better ways of using the “extra effort” standard.  Right now, people have to request this information.  That alone will scare off many potential scammers.  Legislation could have further made people liable if it could be shown that their use of the information facilitated identity theft, although that might face constitutional challenge.

Most of all — it’s worth repeating — if Gorbea took this action in the public interest, she wouldn’t have done it quietly, but would have proclaimed it widely and visibly as a way in which she was protecting Rhode Islanders.

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Rights Erode with a Living Constitution

For a reminder of how the slow erosion of our constitutional rights proceeds, give a read to Damon Roots’s short article, “The 5 Worst Supreme Court Rulings of the Past 50 Years,” on Reason.* The entries don’t appear to name a winner, but I still find the Commerce Clause perversion to be the most indicative of the problematic political theory that has pervaded our government for a century:

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution recognizes the congressional authority “to regulate commerce…among the several states.” In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Supreme Court gave federal lawmakers a massive shot of steroids, enlarging their power in this area to include the regulation of wholly local activity if it has a “substantial economic effect” on the national market.

Six decades later, in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Court handed Congress even more power, upholding a federal ban on marijuana, even as applied to plants that were cultivated and consumed by patients for their own doctor-prescribed use in states where medical cannabis was perfectly legal. As Justice Clarence Thomas observed in dissent, “by holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power.”

Once one erases the distinction between taking an action (like conducting business across state lines) and doing something that reduces the need for that action (producing something in your own home, for your own use, that reduces your need to conduct business across state lines), there really is no feasible limit on federal power.  In theory as well as in practical reality, every action in our society has some effect on every other action.

This is the problem with accepting government officials’ creativity in finding ways around Constitutional limits.  If people really want to ban marijuana, then they should push for legislation to do so.  If that legislation turns out to be unconstitutional, then they should amend the constitution… as narrowly as possible.  Bending the rules can never be a narrow measure in the long term, because it bends principles as well, and many issues reflect the shapes of our principles.

* Of course, the omission of Roe v. Wade is clearly a function of the publication in question.

SOS-Gorbea

Gorbea’s Pattern of Action with Electoral Security

Of course there’s a balance to be struck between public information and privacy, but this just looks suspicious:

Two summers ago, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea quietly changed what information is available to the public in the state’s Central Voter Registration System.

Without public notice or public hearings, Gorbea deleted the month and day from the date of birth supplied to the public in response to requests for the voting list.

Full dates of birth can be key to independent investigations into how accurately Gorbea is maintaining the state’s voting list. Full dates of birth facilitate computerized searches for voters who may be registered in more than one municipality, may be registered in more than one state, or may have died.

As a rule of thumb, when politicians believe they’re doing something smart or popular, they create events, like hearings, and promote their actions with press releases.  When they’re doing something that they think might not be popular or for which they’ve got some ulterior motive, they do it “without public notice or public hearings.”  This is especially true when the politicians are using executive power to act, rather than legislative.

The motive could be as crass as responding to the desires of a big donor or as insidious as a plan to make election fraud more feasible.  In making a judgment as to where on that spectrum Gorbea’s action might fall, Rhode Islanders should recall that she also requested (and received) legislation from the General Assembly that would make fraud with mail ballots easier.

The mantra on the Left is that there is no evidence of systemic vote fraud.  To the extent that’s true (which isn’t much of an extent), one still must wonder about a secretary of state whose pattern of action seems to make it more difficult to find proof, rather than more difficult to commit fraud.

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