Monday, January 31, 2005

Drip, drip, drip

The drug war has been eating at the Bill of Rights since its inception. Asset forfeiture laws, for example, allow law enforcement to seize the assets of suspected drug dealers before they're ever convicted of a crime. Even if the defendant is acquitted or the charges are dropped, the mere presence of an illicit substance in a car or home can mean the loss of the property, on the bizarre, legal principle that property can be guilty of a crime.

Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, a judge in Utah recently had no choice but to sentence a first-time marijuana dealer to 55 years in prison (he had a pistol strapped to his ankle during the one-time deal, though he never brandished it). Frustrated but hamstrung by drug laws, the judge in the case noted that just hours earlier, he had sentenced a convicted murderer to just 22 years for beating an elderly woman to death with a log. Courts have carved out a "drug war exemption" in the Bill of Rights for multiple search and seizure scenarios, privacy, wiretapping, opening your mail, highway profiling, and posse comitatus - the forbidden use of the U.S. military for domestic policing.

Radley Balko, Cato policy analyst and blogger, is railing about the loss of first amendment rights.

This is why I like the internet. The link is from Matthew Yglesias, generally called "liberal."

Balko, of course, is not "conservative" in the usual sense, but "libertarian." That is another way of saying that in the area of social issues he prefers to stay above some frays, holding that "that government is best which governs least" and so the best government virtually governs not at all. Libertarians, it seems, fear social initiatives on the part of government less than they fear the law of unintended consequences. In our lifetime we have seen social initiatives on the part of governments - local, state and national - mess up everything from welfare and public schools to war itself (which is Neal Boortz' main complaint about Libertarians, their non-support of the Iraq war). There is adquate evidence to fear unintended consequences, although many of us are old enough to remember when it was illegal for a Negro to drink from a "white only" drinking fountain. And some of our parents remember the destitution of a population who welcomed the Social Security System.

I am encouraged when I come across reasonable people unafraid to admit shared common ground with others with whom they might generally disagree. They are few and far between in an era of polarization, but they do exist.

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