Category Archives: Law

Some thoughts on conversion-therapy bans

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has signed into law the bill banning “conversion therapy” for minors. He is the fifth Republican governor to sign such a bill.

Now that it’s too late to matter, I’m going to be contrarian and observe that even if one considers the exercise of “gay cure” therapy on kids as quackery deserving of scorn and condemnation (which is basically my view) there are reasons that might give pause not to legislate a ban. They include:

1) Some under-18 persons may seek this therapy of their own will and not all necessarily do so under pressure from the adults in their lives;

2) Legislatures may not be a good place to define and ban quack therapies compared with, say, expert professional bodies or courts hearing malpractice cases;

3) In Maryland, or so I am told, such practice is already defunct because of peer pressure and malpractice-risk scrutiny, even if it continues in some other states;

4) These laws have a momentum and before long legislatures may be asked to ban it even for consenting adults and from lay as opposed to licensed therapists, maybe even in do-it-yourself formats like kits or books (as critics say would be the effect of legislation in California);

5) Religion is special under the Constitution and this would not be the first time government might want to tread extra-carefully around quack therapeutic practices that are closely tied up with believers’ religious convictions;

6) While the failings of orientation-change therapy have been well aired for years, we might not be as far along in understanding the different issues presented by therapy in the area of gender expression. .

All of which helps explain persons I respect might come out on either side.

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Seat Pleasant tax sits unpleasantly on local business owners

Congratulations! You may not have realized it was happening, but your municipality has put you in a special revitalization zone which means the property taxes you owe them will quintuple. That’s the message some suburban Maryland business owners got recently, subject of my recent Cato piece. Excerpt:

Specialists in local and state government policy are full of ideas for business-by-business and location-by-location tinkering with tax rates, both downward (as part of incentive packages to lure relocating businesses) and upward (to finance special public services provided in some zones, such as downtown revitalization). But there is a distinct value in terms of both public legitimacy and the rule of law in having uniform and consistent taxation that does not depend on whether a property owner or business is on the ins or on the outs with the tax-setting authorities.

[cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Senate bid to deny Trump ballot access in Maryland

My letter to the editor at the Frederick News-Post:

I have myself been critical of President Donald Trump’s refusal to divulge his tax returns, but the bill advanced in the Maryland Senate purporting to make that a requirement for the next presidential ballot in Maryland is partisanship at its most inane. [Sponsors] are here attempting to (1) impose a new qualification on presidential candidates not found in either the U.S. constitution or federal law; (2) do so by means of denying ballot access in their own state, which means by restricting the choices of their own electorate; and (3) do so with the open aim of opposing a single particular candidate.

We may pause for a moment to imagine how this sort of stunt could be pulled by other partisans against other candidates, should it catch on.

No wonder California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill because of the obvious constitutional concerns.

Related: in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1994), a Supreme Court divided 5-4 held that Arkansas could not add to the qualifications for election to Congress enumerated in the Constitution by disqualifying candidates who had already served a set number of terms in office; it also specifically rejected the view that a restriction on ballot access does not act as a bar to office because it leaves open the possibility of running as a write-in.

Note also that the Arizona legislature in 2011, under the influence of “birther” sentiment, passed a measure requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to get on the state’s ballot. Although natural born citizenship unlike the release of tax returns is of course a genuine constitutional prerequisite for serving as president, the interference with the appropriate distribution of federal-state power, as well as the intent to target one particular candidate, namely birther target and incumbent President Obama, was evident enough that conservative Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the measure. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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What if bail reform leads to higher incarceration?

A campaign to get rid of the bail bond industry is currently in full swing across the country, with support from many liberals and libertarians. I’ve got an op-ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal’s “Cross Country” feature warning that Maryland’s experience over the past year should be a cautionary lesson:

Last fall the state’s attorney general, Brian Frosh, issued guidance that suddenly declared past bail methods unlawful, prodding the court system into an unplanned experiment. Judges may not set financial requirements if there is a reason to believe the defendant cannot pay, and unless they hold a suspect without bail, they must impose the “least onerous” conditions.

Now the results are coming in, and they can’t be what Mr. Frosh had in mind. An early report in March by Kelsi Loos in the Frederick News-Post found that since October the share of Maryland defendants held without bail had increased from 10% to 14%. The Washington Post later reported that from September 2016 to May the figure had jumped from 7% to 15%.

Meanwhile, fewer released defendants are showing up for trial. The Post, confirming anecdotal reports, writes that the “failure to appear” rate in January was 14.5%, up five points from October. Failing to show up for court sets up a defendant for more-severe consequences down the road, which can include being held without bail.

While bail reform is supposed to reduce the number of inmates held in jail, the number has instead increased in some places, though the results appear inconsistent.

If bail is taken away, judges need other tools to do the same job. Decades ago, when Congress steered the federal criminal-justice system away from bail bonds, lawmakers provided practical replacements, including systematic help in assessing a defendant’s risk of flight or re-offense, options for pretrial supervision, and methods of home and electronic detention. Several states have done the same. New Jersey now uses a mathematical algorithm to assess a person’s risk of fleeing or committing another crime. But the Maryland legislature, deeply split over Mr. Frosh’s destabilizing changes, has failed to set up such alternatives.

Maryland’s example doesn’t refute the idea of bail reform. But it does suggest state leaders should work to build consensus for comprehensive changes, instead of charging ahead with moralizing experiments.

On the current campaign to end bail bonds, see American Bar AssociationSens. Kamala Harris and Rand Paul and newspaperspraisingMarc Levin (conservative), ACLU (villainizing insurers), Gary Raney.

Other perspectives: Scott Greenfield (“pre-trial incarceration was a huge factor in obtaining guilty pleas from innocent defendants,” but algorithms, used as replacement in places like New Jersey, have problems too), Joshua Page (some families value bond company’s service), Dan Mitchell. On the uncertain stance of constitutional law, see Pugh v. Rainwater (Fifth Circuit 1977) and more (LaFave et al.), Walker v. City of Calhoun, 2016 (Cato amicus: bail must be individualized) and more (James McGehee).

[cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Hamilton v. Paolozzi: gun rights of rehabilitated felons

Restore rights to a rehabilitated felon? Sure, says Maryland, but not gun rights. Constitutional check [Ilya Shapiro, Cato, on this certiorari amicus brief]

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George Liebmann on the Baltimore police consent decree

George Liebmann of the Calvert Institute, who has been a critic of the U.S. Department of Justice’s consent decree with the city of Baltimore over policing practices, commented on the decree in a communication to the district court. What follows are excerpts from the submission to the court:

To: Baltimore.consent.decree@USdoj.gov

…The showing of current or recent constitutional violations by the named defendants that is a necessary predicate for federal jurisdiction and the decree is absent. The unsworn and unsigned Report attached to the Complaint recites few recent incidents, none chargeable to the current Mayor and Police Chief, and no improper directives by them. …

This is a City in which any number of Mayors, Councilmen and Police Chiefs have been black, as is at least 40% of its police force. Whatever the misconduct of a few individuals, the charge of racism is one that should not be lightly entertained, let alone sanctified, on slender or non-existent evidence, in a decree of a United States District Court. Such a finding is a jurisdictional prerequisite; the disclaimer in paragraph 5 that the City does not agree with the Findings in no way obviates the jurisdictional need for them. Their falsity and exaggeration is welcomed by the original sponsors of the decree because it feeds not only into a decree but into a political narrative supportive of electoral mobilization and identity politics.

The decree is transparently collusive—an alliance of two lame duck administrations to victimize unrepresented interests, those of the police unions and their members and those of the State, which will be pressured to provide money for reforms, the BPD being at least nominally a State agency. Nor is the United States Attorney anywhere to be found…. Article III of the Constitution limits court jurisdiction to “cases and controversies”, an important limitation. Moore v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 402 U. S. 47 (1971); Chicago and G.T.R. Co. v. Wellman, 143 U. S. 339(1892). There is none here; the parties have avowed since before this case filed their intention to enter a consent decree. Given the apparent lack of enthusiasm of the current Justice Department, entry of the decree will deliver public policy into the hands of advocacy groups. It is inconceivable that even the recent and current City administrations would have conceded control of the police to advocacy groups, including some with a declared agenda in favor of federal control of local law enforcement.

The vague and sweeping injunction contained in paragraph 8 can thus be enforced, if at all, only by contempt fines falling on City taxpayers and fustian from the bench. The Court, to be sure, will have the aid of a credulous press. Notwithstanding an express finding in the Report that the facts found on handling of sexual assault complaints did not establish a constitutional violation, the lead story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jess Bidgood in the next day’s New York Times, August 16, 2016, page 1, column six at the top of the page bore the headline in the print edition: ”Baltimore Police Fostered a Bias Against Women.” The Court in its Agenda for Counsel accurately characterized the decree as “aspirational, general, lacking in deadlines” as well as lacking in information about “standards to be applied, resources, costs.”

Neither this Court nor the litigating lawyers framing the decree are authorities in police administration. As the ‘time line’ appropriately directed by the Court indicates, there are an almost comically large number of reporting requirements, the costs of which in time, manpower, morale, and response speed are not assessed. There is every reason to think that these external mandates will be resented and little in the recent history of structural decrees provides reason to think that they will be effective. Non-constructive compliance costs will be enormous, and, given paragraph 450, even the much-vaunted ceiling on monitors’ fees is bendable.

The City was vindicated in this court’s housing case after twenty years of costly litigation, the only relief granted being a cosmetic decree against the federal government affecting a few hundred families; while the case was pending, several hundred thousand minority families moved to the Baltimore suburbs without the court’s assistance. This court’s special education case was of equal length and bore fruit, as Kalman Hettleman and others have shown, in enhanced paper shuffling and no improvements in the quality of the personnel giving classroom instruction. …The effective police reformers have been Commissioners, not judges: William Bratton in 1990s New York and Los Angeles, Donald Pomerleau in 1970s Baltimore.

Paragraphs 251 through 259 of the decree relating to sexual assault are improperly included as a sop to advocacy groups in the face of a Report finding “We do not, at this time, find reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in gender-biased policy in violation of federal law.”

The provisions of paragraphs 43(b) and 61 limiting arrests for loitering, misdemeanor trespass, (important in drug law enforcement), as well as disorderly conduct, gambling, and quality of life offenses will become rapidly known and are gifts to the underworld, lowering the risks and costs of illegal drug distribution and increasing its profitability. In no way do they foster or are they equivalent to the decriminalization of drugs. The benefits of decriminalization, all absent here, include labeling, licensing, quality control, availability of drug testing without fear of self-incrimination, excise taxes, enhanced revenues from sales, payroll, income and business taxes, and the replacement of a distribution system reaching into every workplace and classroom with one operating from fixed locations. Insofar as it curbs “broken windows” and “quality of life” enforcement, the decree completely deprives the City of options the value of which is the subject of political and professional controversy, a disservice to responsible self-government.

The decree cedes power not only to the federal court and its monitor but to the federal Department of Justice itself, see paragraphs 285, 286, 298, 319, 324, 483. The merit of Justice Jackson’s view may not have been apparent in October but should be in March: “I think the potentialities of a federal centralized police system for ultimate subversion of our form of government are very great.” The decree adopts unacceptable “disparate impact” criteria on both employment and enforcement, paragraphs 43, 423 and 511 (cc). It is particularly deplorable that the last of these restrictions is buried in the “Definitions” section of the decree. Its effect, as a representative of an advocacy group has joyfully proclaimed, is to prevent police from “targeting citizens in high crime areas.” Reduced enforcement in such areas is assumed to be a public good, an insight probably not shared by the residents. …The decree is not a harmless sop, but a measure whose effect on police recruitment and behavior threatens a sudden and complete collapse of public order, or at best a long period of slow attrition as police, residents and businesses vote with their feet for jurisdictions that have not thus handcuffed themselves….

The court is being urged to enter both a political thicket and a minefield, to no good purpose….

Respectfully submitted, George W. Liebmann

Note also (via Kevin Rector of the Baltimore Sun on Twitter) this paragraph acknowledging the collusive, or sweetheart, nature of the litigation:

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Image: Wikimedia.

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South Mountain Creamery owner will get the rest of his money back

Good news in the Randy Sowers case, written about often in this space. [Institute for Justice, Edward Ericson, Jr./Baltimore City Paper, Jacob Sullum, earlier, more on forfeiture] [cross-posted from Overlawyered;

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Gov. Hogan signs forfeiture reform

Gov. Larry Hogan yesterday signed an important package of reforms to forfeiture law in Maryland. Applause to all who helped make this happen, including Sen. Michael Hough, Rob Peccola and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, and Gov. Hogan.

P.S. Some coverage of a January press event in which I participated at the Capitol, calling attention to the case for asset forfeiture reform in Maryland: Frederick News-Post, Maryland ReporterWBAL.

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LEOBR reform not going well this session

Supposed reforms to Maryland’s notorious Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) law could leave police unions with even more power than now [Washington Times, Washington Post] ACLU of Maryland report on how the law, along with the Baltimore police union contract, serve as obstacles to officer accountability [press, more] Last year, the filing of charges in the Freddie Gray case “enraged the police rank and file, who pulled back” from arrests and engagement with lethal consequences for the Baltimore crime rate; but was the work-to-rule really based on a well-founded fear of being prosecuted over good police practice? [Richard Oppel/New York Times, NYT “Room for Debate” and more, Alex Tabarrok/Marginal Revolution]

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Should Maryland give felons on probation and parole a right to vote?

The Maryland legislature will soon decide, perhaps by a margin of a single vote, whether to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto and extend voting rights to some classes of felons on parole or probation. A few thoughts:

  • The proposed change would replace a reasonably bright-line, understandable rule on felons and voting (finish your sentence first) with a mishmash new standard that would spread confusion among voters and elections boards and is based on no coherent rationale. Clear rules of predictable and understandable application are desirable for their own sake and especially important in voting, an area in which confusion and disagreement about legality bring special dangers. That’s one reason the editorial advisory board of the Daily Record, the newspaper of the Maryland legal profession, says Gov. Hogan’s veto should stand and that there are other, better ways to pursue the goal of reintegration for offenders.
  • Proponents offer what they claim is evidence that restoring a right to vote earlier promotes rehabilitation of offenders. It is very difficult to separate correlation from causation on this, however. Yes, well-rehabilitated offenders are more likely to vote, but that does not mean that the second caused the first.
  • Proponents also argue that earlier recovery of voting privileges is needed to combat stigma. A couple of thoughts on that: First, all criminalization necessarily stigmatizes unless the public stops believing that criminality ordinarily relates to guilt, in which case we are in very big trouble for other reasons. Second, parole/probation involves continued deprivation of a comprehensive bundle of civil rights, many of which would otherwise be of constitutional standing, such as travel, association, firearms access, and so forth. Of these, I suspect losses in areas like travel and association are far more stigmatizing than loss of a voting right because they often must be explained to others (“sorry, I can’t come to your wedding because…”). With voting, we have a secret ballot and a system set up so as generally to protect people from “You didn’t vote last week and I need to know why” social pressure.

Both sides bring ideological preconceptions to this dispute. But of all the ways in which one might address Maryland’s genuine problems of over-criminalization and over-incarceration, it seems especially a token of ideological faith to have settled on this one as a key priority.

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