Saturday, July 29, 2006

Should a cocaine using mayor be forced out of office?

What should a drug reformer say about a user of illegal drugs? Does it matter if the drug user is Rush Limbaugh, Noelle Bush, John M. Fabrizi, the mayor of Bridgeport, CT, Tommy Chong, or some ordinary citizen?

We don’t believe that people should be punished by the government for using drugs. Noelle Bush, Tommy Chong, and ordinary citizens do not hold public office. They have no responsibility for serving the public.

The issue regarding a public official, such as Mayor John Fabrizi, is not so much the question of whether he or she is one of the twenty million or so Americans who currently use illegal drugs, or the 100 million who have done so in the past. The issue more precisely is whether he or she has integrity.

Simply breaking the law is not a measure of integrity. A public official who, let’s say, fails to recycle when required to do so, or throws litter from their car, is a slob or is selfish and lazy, but does not demonstrate a failure of integrity that disqualifies him for office.

This is not an issue about whether the public official may have had impaired judgment in making an official decision. During World War II, Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was consuming a quart of whiskey or more per day. U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was widely rumored to have been a very heavy drinker. Even impaired, their judgment was superior to that of most of us.

Integrity has to do with truth telling and intellectual honesty. Is the official trustworthy? When Bill Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinsky, his cheating on his wife revealed his low character, but that did not disqualify him from holding office. But when he committed perjury – lying in an official proceeding under oath – regarding his sex acts with Lewinsky, he demonstrated a lack of integrity that would have compelled an honorable man to resign, and would have motivated a political party of integrity to demand his resignation. However, while perjury was a blot on Clinton’s integrity and the Democrats who did not call upon him to resign, perjury did not rise to the level that warranted an impeachment. It did not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.

Bridgeport Mayor Fabrizi has, admitted a history of cocaine use, and we presume he is telling the truth. Like millions of other Americans he broke the drug law. But drug policy reformers hold that this law is itself wrong. People should not be punished simply for what they put in their bodies.

The test of Mayor Fabrizi’s integrity therefore rests now upon his intellectual honesty. Is he a man of principle and conviction, or merely an ambitious opportunist? A test of integrity is measured by how he speaks about the drug laws he violated.

Does he say, “I violated the drug laws. It is not good to violate the laws. But these laws are wrong and should be changed. I cannot support a law that punishes thousands of others in Connecticut for the conduct I engaged in, when I – and they – have not hurt anyone in a way that the law is entitled to punish. For example, I hurt my kids and wife when I lied to them and broke my promises to them. But the law does not punish a father or husband who breaks his promises to his family. I hurt my supporters and undermined the faith of citizens in the integrity of their government when I admitted that I broke the drug laws. Those hurt feelings and loss of faith in government or me does not warrant punishment by the state.”

But if the Mayor says, “My violation of the drug law doesn’t really count. More importantly, I continue to support those laws that send people who use drugs like me to prison – but I should not go to prison. In fact, I should not even lose my job for doing this thing that should send people to prison.” If that is the Mayor’s position, then he demonstrates the lack of intellectual honesty and integrity that warrants his removal from office.

I repeat: I am not calling for his resignation or removal from office because he used drugs. Breaking a stupid and counterproductive law that has been disregarded by almost 100 million Americans is not ground for forcing the Mayor from office.

If he is a hypocrite, intellectually dishonest, and lacking in integrity, then I call for his resignation from office. A man who insists that other people should be punished for what he did and insists simultaneously that he does not warrant punishment has no moral compass – he lacks the intellectual honesty that warrants entrusting him with the public’s business. Such a man would have no scruple insisting that wrongful acts – theft or bribery, for example – that ought to apply to others should not apply to him.

I am not calling for his prosecution. One’s attitude about the rightness or wrongness of a law does not, by itself, determine whether a prosecution is just. If Mayor Fabrizi is prosecuted, I urge him to seek jury nullification – to argue directly to the jury that law is wrong when it punishes a person simply for using drugs, and to ask the jury to find him not guilty. I urge him to demand that the prosecution justify the law to the jury – that it demonstrate the drug law reduces crime and protects public health. I have no doubt that any jury given the facts and the opportunity to judge the wisdom of this law will acquit those simply charged with drug possession.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Eric, how very good that you have spent your life doing this work. I remember you as a determined and thoughtful young, may I say Quaker, way before you went to college, when I was busy working to improve the justice system in the Phila. area. You were right there and involved. I send you my best as another Friend and I hope you still are! Rose Miller