Tuesday, September 04, 2018

"Equal Justice Under Law" -- Abandoned by President Donald J. Trump

For most of us, "equal justice under law," is a national promise and ideal that is supremely important. Yes, many of us feel justice as applied is not equal and this promise is hollow. But we subscribe to the ideal, we hold it up!

Historically, our national leadership affirms "equal justice under law" -- indeed it must affirm this -- as our common objective, and a guiding principle of the Executive and Judicial branches of the government -- federal and state.

I have hesitated to begin to identify the problems that President Donald Trump creates by his various statements that have revealed a disrespect for the law and the norms that the President should uphold as a matter of custom and decorum. They are simply too numerous and frequent to spend the time.

But his tweets on September 3 criticizing U.S. Attorneys (actually criticizing the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions)  in bringing criminal charges on behalf of the United States against two Members of Congress because this prosecution might effect the outcome of the November 2018 elections were especially shocking.

Of course the accused Members of Congress are entitled to a presumption of innocence, but they are not entitled to impunity.

The President's tweets create the impression that he believes that his political supporters ought to not be prosecuted, even if there is probable cause to charge them with felony conduct. This is different than his pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who lost his attempt to be a Republican nominee to the U.S. Senate from Arizona). In the exercise of his pardon authority, it is his authority in Article II, section 2. But to attack the Justice Department, which is responsible for operating under the "Equal Justice Under Law" principle in every case, demonstrates his belief that his personal moral values ought to prevail in the management and administration of the Department of Justice.

The President's cronies must never be immune from prosecution, and that President Donald J. Trump does not agree demonstrates that he does not understand the key feature of his oath of office, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (Article II, Section 1, last clause).

This should trouble all of us.

Sphere: Related Content

Prison Strike 2018 -- Stop slave wages and amend the 13th Amendment

The Intercept reported on the summer 2018 prison strike. It will be very interesting to see what attention it generates and what the outcomes will be. Among the shocking features of our incarceration policies are the very low wages paid to inmates for their labor. A year and half ago, Prison Policy compiled prison wages, state by state.

For prisoners, having the opportunity work is a good idea, but it must be compensated at the prevailing scale to be fair and meaningful.  There are many problems with the U.S. Constitution -- the electoral college system and the equal representation of each state in the U.S. Senate are two that come quickly to mind -- but one of the worst is the continued authorization of slavery as punishment for the conviction of a crime in the 13th Amendment as slavery is being outlawed in general.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." (Ratified Dec. 18, 1865 by 27 states)

This provision of the Constitution sanctifies slavery as a status for being convicted of a crime

This provision of the Constitution authorizes "slave wages" for inmates working in the nation's correctional system. This is a provision that should be amended by Congress and the States.

The continuation of the Constitutional protection of slavery has terrible consequences. As provided by the Constitution, this status of protected slavery is not limited only to the serving of a sentence, but can be understood a lifetime second-class status that helps undermine the rehabilitation of the formerly incarcerated. It helps to maintain the reluctance to fully reintegrate those who have offended back into the economy and the community.

Today, prisoners are paid a few cents per hour for their labor, justified by this provision of the Constitution.  Work is a valued distraction from the boredom of imprisonment. Prisoners want to work. Meaningful work in prison is a valuable experience for transitioning to employment at the end of a sentence. Work in prison should be encouraged! But as long as prison labor can be equated as slavery and involuntary servitude it is tainted. Prison work, often hazardous -- working on farms, working with power tools and machinery, working in risky environments -- should be subject to OSHA. And prison employees should be subject to workplace protections against injury (worker's compensation, protection against hazardous materials, and from harassment and discrimination, etc.)

But as a matter of policy,  slave labor wages, due to the 13th Amendment, pervert the valuable experience of work for prisoners.
By failing to adequately compensate prison labor:
     * work becomes associated with exploitation and fosters resentment against employers and increases alienation about our economic system;
     * the labor undercuts wages paid to people employed in the regular labor market whose products and services compete with those of the prison employer;
     * prisoners cannot send meaningful funds home to families, helping to support children, which provides a stronger basis for family re-integration at the conclusion of a sentence (a strong family connection being an important factor in reducing the risk of recidivism);
     * prisoners cannot purchase telephone time to stay in communication with family;
     * families of prisoners have to subsidize their loved ones in prison, creating additional stresses on families that have lost a bread winner;
     * prisoners cannot save money to serve as a first and lost month rent for housing when they are released from incarceration increasing the likelihood that they will immediately become homeless and at high risk to use illegal drugs and return to criminal conduct.

Is Congress working to eliminate the protection of slavery in the 13th Amendment which begins, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States..."


In the current 115th Congress, two Republicans in the House, Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) and Rep. David Young (R-IA) have introduced H. Res. 936 to recognize June   19, as "Junteenth Independence Day," that notes that the 13th Amendment was adopted.

On January 29, 2018, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced S. 385, "National Trafficking and Modern Slavery Prevention Month" in January 2018, noting that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was enacted "under the authority of Congress to enforce the 13th Amendment" and "updated the post-Civil War involuntary servitude and slavery statutes." It was approved by the Senate very quickly, but on February 7, a week after the month ended. 

But there is an opportunity for Congress to help prisoners but abolishing slavery in the U.S., period, but amending the 13th Amendment.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 04, 2018

End of Cole Memorandum regarding Federal-State marijuana "stand off" 1st news

Associated Press has reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to suspend the 2013 U.S. Department of Justice Memorandum (known as the "Cole Memorandum") that has been interpreted to give the states the green light to legalize and regulate marijuana within their borders after Colorado and Washington voters adopted laws to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana and the growth and distribution of marijuana for that purpose.

Here is the new memorandum from A.G. Sessions issued on Jan. 4, 2018. It says that all the general criteria that U.S. Attorneys are supposed to use in deciding what cases to prosecute should be applied to marijuana cases.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) has said that this move violates a pledge that Sessions made to him. Gardner is threatening to start blocking Senate confirmation of Department of Justice nominations in retaliation.

The 2013 Memorandum expanded on earlier memoranda from 2009 and 2011("Ogden Memorandum") that were limited to state medical marijuana programs.

Sessions, as a Federal prosecutor, was especially hostile to drug offenders, and as U.S. Senator, regularly spoke out against any kind of marijuana law reform.

Stay tuned to see what the actual details of the Session's new policy look like.

Sphere: Related Content