New Hampshire Is One Step Closer To Abolishing the Death Penalty

New Hampshire is one step closer to abolishing the death penalty.

On Thursday, the New Hampshire House voted 247-123 in favor of House Bill 455, which would replace the death penalty with “imprisonment for life without the possibility for parole.” The bill was previously vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in early May. At the time of his veto, Sununu urged lawmakers to keep capital punishment on the books.

Today’s House vote Sununu’s veto. The bill will now head to the New Hampshire Senate, where they will decide whether they, too, will override the veto.

“The veto override was passed on a strong bipartisan vote because more conservatives than ever know the death penalty is a failed government program that does not value life, threatens innocent people, and wastes money,” said Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, in a statement provided to Reason. “These factors drove many Republican New Hampshire lawmakers to vote for repeal this year, as they did last year when the GOP controlled the chamber.” 

“It is not a credit to one party, but a recognition that in these partisan and divisive times, there is at least one issue that rises above party,” wrote Jeanne Hruska, political director of the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union, prior to the vote. Hruska also noted that efforts to end the death penalty in New Hampshire were thwarted by Democratic and Republican governors alike.

New Hampshire is not the only state considering a repeal of the death penalty. Georgia introduced such a bill in March. Despite the state-led reforms against the practice, however, the Pew Research Center found an uptick in support for capital punishment in 2018. However, a majority of poll respondents in 2015 acknowledged the risk of killing an innocent person and that the practice did little to deter serious crime.

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Portland’s City-Owned Golf Courses a Hot Mess of Deferred Maintenance, Ballooning Pension Costs, and Falling Revenue

Portland’s network of city-owned golf courses was supposed to earn enough to pay for itself. Instead, it has required bailouts to survive.

“Intended to be self-supporting, the program required an infusion of $800,000 of taxpayer funds in 2017 to remain solvent,” reads a report released today by the city’s auditor. “While Parks has taken steps to cut costs and increase the number of golfers, it is fighting a national trend of a sport in decline and past ineffective program management.”

The report detailed problems at the five city-owned golf courses (one of which is actually in the neighboring town of Beaverton). Like many government-owned pieces of infrastructure around the country, the courses suffer from deferred maintenance, poor oversight, and ballooning wage and benefit costs.

The annual budget for these city-run golf courses is $9.6 million. Some $1 million of this was spent administering the golf program. Another $3 million when to staff salaries and benefits, the largest single expense.

Ballooning staff costs were reportedly a driving factor behind that 2017 bailout of the golf courses. “Some conditions that led to the bailout remain and are projected to worsen, for instance, employee retirement and health benefits,” says the report, which also projects that those benefits will outpace inflation.

The golf courses have also apparently fallen into another common problem with government-run services: bold, debt-funded initiatives that suffer from cost overruns and disappointing revenue.

In 2014 the city bought the Colwood golf course, its fifth, with borrowed funds. The plan was to restore wetlands on a portion of the land and build a redesigned nine-hole course on another, which would then generate enough money to pay back the loans that financed the purchase.

Construction delays and disappointing earnings meant the city was unable to pay back these loans and was forced to refinance. Four of the five courses now generate enough business to cover their own operations, though not enough to pay for the city’s administrative costs. But the Colwood is still losing money.

Deferred maintenance on the courses has also turned off golfers, cutting down on revenue even more.

The report also notes golf’s waning popularity with the public—and suggests solving this problem through an effort to “increase the game’s appeal to more Portlanders, across age, gender, race, physical ability and more.” But rather than trying to sell minority communities on golf, the city could just sell the courses themselves. Indeed, the decline in the public’s love for the sport could be taken as hint that there isn’t a huge public purpose in maintaining a bunch of government-owned golf courses. Surely entrepreneurs in a growing, desirable city could fine better uses for the land.

 

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Amash Doubles Down: ‘Some of the President’s Actions Were Inherently Corrupt’

Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) has doubled down on his assessment that President Donald Trump engaged in impeachable conduct, as detailed by the report from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

“Mueller’s report describes a consistent effort by the president to use his office to obstruct or otherwise corruptly impede the Russian election interference investigation because it put his interests at risk,” Amash writes at the beginning of a 20-tweet thread highlighting a number of incidents outlined in the Mueller report where Trump appears to have attempted to shut down the investigation.

Specifically, Amash points to Trump’s request to the FBI director that the bureau stop investigating Michael Flynn, Trump’s order that then–White House Counsel Don McGahn have Mueller removed from the investigation (a demand McGahn ignored), and Trump’s subsequent decision to tell McGahn to lie about the incident in public records.

“Some of the president’s actions were inherently corrupt,” Amash concludes. “Other actions were corrupt—and therefore impeachable—because the president took them to serve his own interests.”

On Saturday, Amash became the first Republican member of Congress to suggest that Trump should face impeachment proceedings for his attempts to interfere in the Mueller probe. In that statement, also posted to Twitter, the Michigan congressman blamed his fellow Republican legislators for choosing to defend the president rather than the Constitution in the wake of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report. He also warned that putting Trump’s interests ahead of the country’s would put the rule of law at risk.

The reactions from the president and his supporters have been instructive. Trump lashed out by calling Amash “a loser.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) went on television to declare that Amash “votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me,” which isn’t even close to being true. The House Freedom Caucus, which Amash co-founded, voted to condemn him for having the audacity to exercise his freedom to criticize the president. A Trump-supporting state representative announced plans to primary Amash in 2020.

Though it all, the libertarian-leaning congressman has maintained a level head. He’s turned down what are surely endless requests to appear on cable news, but he did take time to talk to a group of schoolchildren from Michigan who were visiting the Capitol this week.

He has behaved, in other words, like a dignified representative of the people who is thoughtfully approaching one of the most serious questions a member of Congress can consider: Should the sitting president be removed from office?

Whether or not you agree with Amash’s conclusions on that question, his demeanor over the course of this week—and his rational outline of his specific criticisms of Trump—stand in stark contrast to how most of Trump’s defenders and the president himself have reacted. That doesn’t mean Amash is right, of course, but it should give conservatives pause before they launch into another round of histrionics.

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Illinois’ Top Court Blesses Chicago’s Cronyist Anti-Food-Truck Regulations

Don’t go to Chicago with your fancy food trucks. That was the message from the Illinois Supreme Court today as it upheld oppressive, protectionist regulations designed to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from mobile competitors.

Chicago forbids food trucks from parking within 200 feet of any establishment that serves food—including convenience stores. The city also requires food trucks to carry GPS devices so they can be tracked. Illinois’ top court ruled today that these restrictions pass constitutional muster.

Such regulations have essentially made it impossible to operate food trucks profitably in much of the Windy City. Indeed, they’ve made it basically impossible to park a truck and serve customers in 97 percent of the city’s major business district. Lawbreakers face fines of $1,000 to $2,000 for each violation.

The food-truck-appreciating and property-rights-loving attorneys of the Institute for Justice took on the city on behalf of Laura Pekarik, who attempted to start a cupcake-serving truck to raise money for cancer research. The Institute for Justice filed its suit in November 2012, arguing that the regulations violate the state constitution’s due process protections.

The regulations were clearly designed to protect restaurants from competition, though city representatives insisted that they merely wanted to protect the stability and economic growth of Chicago properties and the tax revenue they represent. Even if that is their motive, it’s a bad one: It suggests that a government’s recognition of our individual liberties is contingent on whether it correlates with city officials’ goals. Nevertheless, the top court bought the argument:

The City has a legitimate governmental interest in encouraging the long-term stability and economic growth of its neighborhoods. The 200-foot rule, which helps promote brick-and-mortar restaurants and, thus, neighborhood stability, is rationally related to this legitimate interest. Importantly, too,…[t]his section created a number of food truck stands, i.e., designated areas along the public way where food trucks are permitted to park without being subject to the 200-foot rule. Thus, the City has not entirely banned food trucks. Rather, it has created a regulatory scheme that attempts to balance the interests of food trucks with the need to promote neighborhood stability that is furthered by brick-and-mortar restaurants.

No, the city has not “entirely banned food trucks.” But Chicago’s food-truck industry has shrunk by 40 percent over the past six years, thanks to the city’s oppressive rules.

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert Frommer expresses his disappointment with the court’s ruling:

Today’s ruling doesn’t protect public safety; instead, it protects brick-and-mortar restaurants from honest competition. A hallmark of America is robust competition, not hardball politics and backroom deals. Holding that Chicago may use public power for private gain breaks with over a century of precedent and weakens the constitutional rights of not just food truckers, but all Illinoisans.

Read the court’s ruling here, and then read more here from Baylen Linnekin about the trials and tribulations in other communities from people just trying to earn a living selling you delicious food from a truck.

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Colorado’s Growing Second Amendment Sanctuary Movement

The Delta County Board of County Commissioners’ work session on March 12, 2019, was standing room only.

Nearly 250 residents had packed into the county building in Western Colorado. Every available chair was filled, and attendees lined the wall elbow-to-elbow. To accommodate the unusually large crowd, county staff opened up a second meeting room and dialed up the internal conference line to broadcast what was being said in the main meeting room. Even with that additional space, attendees spilled out into the adjacent hallways—all attempting to jockey for a better position to listen in on deliberations.

The discussion that generated so much attention in this rural community of 30,568 started 275 miles away, in Denver: House Bill 1177 (H.B.1177), passed by the Colorado House of Representatives just 10 days prior. Officially titled “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” (ERPO), the bill would codify the seizure of firearms from citizens who are a perceived threat to themselves or others with an ex parte civil order.

Commonly referred to as a “red flag law,” this type of legislation is part of a state-by-state strategy pushed by gun control activists who were galvanized by the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Prior to the Parkland shooting, five states had some sort of red flag law on the books; not including H.B. 1177, there are now 14.

Delta County residents showed up to the hearing because they were deeply concerned about the bill’s constitutionality. When the Delta County forum opened to public comment, resident after resident beseeched the commissioners to stand up in support of their individual rights to bear arms, private property, and due process. Sporting a shirt with the words “I plead the Second” in military stencil accompanied by the profile of an AR-15, one man standing in the hallway shouted “amen” and “yes, sir,” boisterously affirming each petitioner who referenced gun rights. Not one person spoke in support of the bill.

County leadership shared their antipathy toward the legislation. Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor, who was elected sheriff in 2018 and also served as undersheriff for the previous 16 years, was the first to speak. Visibly and audibly nervous, Taylor read a prepared statement that expressed his own opposition to H.B. 1177.

“I feel that that bill goes beyond, there’s no due process as far as enforcing that bill,” Taylor says.

After summarizing his main objections—specifically, that the legislation violates the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments—Taylor requested that the board of commissioners adopt a resolution that designated Delta County as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.” Taylor received a standing ovation from the audience.

What exactly constitutes “sanctuary” status for law enforcement is a point of contention throughout Colorado. Like Delta County, more than half of Colorado counties have adopted resolutions—some more strident, some more symbolic—explicitly challenging H.B.1177 and implicitly suggesting local law enforcement will not comply with the new law. Several sheriffs—predominately from rural Colorado—have publicly expressed their willingness to go to jail if court-ordered to issue an ERPO. Other sheriffs have said it is not their job to pick and choose the laws that they want to enforce.

The Red Flag Sheriff: Tony Spurlock

On the exact same day as the Delta work session, an entirely different scene was unfolding over 300 miles away in Douglas County. Like Delta, a sheriff stood in front of a large crowd, asking elected county leaders take action in response to red flag bill. This time, however, Sheriff Tony Spurlock was encouraging Douglas County commissioners to vote against a resolution that officially rebukes H.B.1177.

“I told them ‘that’s kind of silly, guys, don’t do that,” Spurlock says in an interview after the meeting. “You’re going to embarrass yourselves.”

Despite Spurlock’s protests, Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, making Spurlock the only Colorado sheriff to openly support the red flag law without the backing of his county commissioners.

“I don’t have to listen to them,” Spurlock says, referencing his county commissioners. “I am an independently elected official, and they are essentially telling me not to enforce the law.”

Spurlock doesn’t buy the rhetoric of red flag opponents. A self-proclaimed “Second Amendment guy” and “a strong Republican,” Spurlock believes that the law is perfectly constitutional, and says he would “put money on it” being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The argument that there isn’t due process is really a joke,” Spurlock says. He thinks there is more due process enumerated in this bill than in other ex parte court orders, such as restraining orders or search warrants. Spurlock also cites the high bar of establishing a “clear and convincing” preponderance of the evidence that ERPO petitioners must submit before a judge can an issue an ERPO.

Spurlock’s vocal support of ERPOs dates back to the tragic events that unfolded during New Year’s Eve in 2017. In response to a nuisance complaint, Douglas County Undersheriff Zackari Parrish III was dispatched to the apartment of Matthew Riehl.

Riehl, a veteran with a long history of documented mental health issues, was behaving erratically according to the officers who showed up at the scene. When police attempted to place him under 72-hour psychiatric monitoring, Riehl began firing a gun at the responding officers from inside his apartment. The 29-year-old Parrish was fatally wounded in the exchange. Riehl wounded three additional officers before police shot and killed him. A judge would later deem Riehl’s death to be justified.

Spurlock argues that if police had the ability to seize Riehl’s weapons, Parrish would still be alive today.

“We had dealt with [Riehl] for over three months [before Parrish’s death],” Spurlock says. “We knew that he had been hospitalized for extreme mental health disorders—bipolar, schizophrenia—he had all kinds of unfortunate mental health disorders. There was no law to restrict him from having access to weapons but also protect his family, the community, and himself.”

Since that fateful New Year’s Eve, Spurlock has been on the forefront of red flag legislation, openly lobbying in favor of the law. Colorado Democrats welcome the help. After a version of the bill died in committee during the last legislative session, Spurlock was approached by Colorado House Democratic Majority Leader, Rep. Alec Garnett. His party knew they needed law enforcement support, so the new ERPO bill was named the “Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act.” Spurlock backed the law without hesitating.

On February 18, 2019—the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting—Spurlock joined legislators and gun control activists in a press conference announcing the introduction of H.B.1177. Since then, Spurlock has been a consistent figure in the background for every subsequent press event.

“I knew I was doing the right thing to stand for this,” Spurlock says. But not all of Spurlock’s constituents agreed. Shortly after the initial press conference, a committee to recall the sheriff formed. The Committee to Recall Tony Spurlock filed paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on February 22. The paperwork to recall Spurlock cannot be legally filed until six months after he officially took office. Spurlock was sworn into his most recent term on January 8, 2019, which means activists won’t be able to start gathering signatures for their recall petitions until July. In the interim, the recall committee has already started gathering financial donations in an effort to build up a war chest come petition time.

In addition to the recall effort, Spurlock’s own party abandoned him. As one of the few elected Republicans openly supporting the ERPO law, Spurlock was publicly rebuked by the Douglas County GOP. The county affiliate passed a resolution that not only condemned the red flag legislation—calling it “an excuse to pass gun confiscation legislation”—but also expressed “profound disappointment and disgust with Sheriff Tony Spurlock.”

This very same political wave is also inspiring Colorado sheriffs to become more stridently defiant of legislation they deem to be unconstitutional.

The Sanctuary Sheriffs

“If you haven’t read the bill, the bill is a train wreck of how the mechanics of it work,” says Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams.

Reams isn’t a firebrand or a lofty polemicist, but he has nevertheless emerged as a key figure in the growing opposition to Colorado’s red flag law. He made national headlines in March when he declared he would go to jail for contempt of court before he served an ERPO.

“That’s a sacrifice that I’ll be forced to make,” Reams told CNN on March 31. When pushed further, he replied simply, “I’m not bluffing.”

Like all red flag opponents, Reams believes the law undermines rights protected by the Constitution, which puts him in direct conflict with his sworn oath to defend it.  “I would much rather not be in this situation where I am looking at a law that violates the Constitution,” Reams says. “That puts me in a tough predicament.”

Reams is also concerned with avoiding legal exposure. The liability of a potential legal challenge will place his office in the crosshairs. A lawsuit would likely target his office, not the court that issued the ERPO or the legislators who passed the bill.

“They would be suing the law enforcement agency that violated their constitutional rights,” says Reams. “I’m the one who owns the liability.”

Ten other Colorado sheriffs have publicly communicated their refusal to issue an ERPO. As of this writing, over 50 Colorado sheriffs have expressed varying shades of opposition to H.B.1177.

“How many judges are going to send all the sheriffs in Colorado who are standing up to this to jail?” said Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, who, during an interview with CNN, also stated his intentions to not execute an ERPO within his district.

Most of the enthusiasm for opposing the red flag bill is emanating from Colorado’s rural corners. The vast majority of Second Amendment sanctuary counties are located on the western slope of Continental Divide and the eastern plains that border with Kansas.

“Folks out here take their gun rights seriously,” Reams says.

From a practical standpoint, many of these counties simply don’t have the infrastructure to comply with the red flag law. “If we were to confiscate and hold 20 guns and rifles, that would max out our space,” says Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor.

“Even if the county owned a 10-by-20-foot storage shed, we still wouldn’t have enough room to store these folks’ guns,” says Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes. Like many other Second Amendment sanctuary counties, Delta included language in its resolution denying the allocation of funding for increased capacity related to ERPOs.

The new legislation also presents challenges to the judicial infrastructure of smaller rural counties. Once an ERPO affidavit has been filed, a court hearing must take place within 14 days. Based on its current caseload, the Delta County Combined Court is currently scheduling jury trials at least one year out, according to county officials. To stay in compliance with the new law, ERPO hearings will likely need to “butt in line,” placing a greater burden on an already overburdened court system.

As of this publication, 35 of Colorado’s 64 counties have officially passed some form of resolution that publicly rebukes the new law. Each resolution is unique in its language. Some resolutions are more strident in their opposition, while others hedge their bets by adopting more moderate stances.

The hesitancy to pass more strongly worded resolutions has everything to do with the loaded meaning of one word: sanctuary.

Sanctuary for Whom?

The Second Amendment sanctuary movement isn’t unique to Colorado. County and municipal governments have passed similarly symbolic resolutions in defiance of similarly restrictive gun control laws in Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, Maryland, and Washington. But the term “sanctuary” is problematic from a legal standpoint because it is a loaded term that lacks universal meaning.

“I don’t know what that means,” Spurlock says when asked to define the concept. “So everybody gets to have a gun? Felons? The 6-year-old kid? Nobody really can answer what being a Second Amendment sanctuary means.”

Some counties outright omitted the word from their resolutions. For example, Delta County adopted the symbolic status of “Second Amendment Preservation County.” The omission of “sanctuary” was by design, according to Delta County officials.

“The last thing we wanted to do is to insinuate that a criminal who has committed a crime involving a gun could gain safe haven in Delta,” Suppes says. “It’s the wrong message.”

Appropriating “sanctuary” for the gun rights movement also carries an ironic twist. In modern political parlance, the term is most closely associated with cities and counties that have established themselves as safe havens for undocumented immigrants.

This is problematic for rural communities that are, broadly speaking, aligned with President Donald Trump. The vast majority these Colorado counties voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who opposes both legal and illegal immigration. If county officials in these Colorado hinterlands attempted to adopt resolutions providing sanctuary to immigrants, the reaction would be drastically different.

“It would be very negative,” Reams says when asked what the community response would be if he approached his county leadership about becoming an immigration sanctuary. But Reams doesn’t see a contradiction.

“My stance on illegal immigration is that it is a federal issue,” Reams says. Trump’s immigration policies have not “been proven to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court yet so we should be enforcing it,” he adds.

When asked about a hypothetical situation in which his constituents wanted to make his county an immigration sanctuary—perhaps in response to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) overloading Weld County courts and jails without additional federal support—Reams didn’t hesitate to support the feds.

“I don’t see a time where I would try to push back to say what the federal government is doing is wrong,” Reams says. “I support ICE in any and every way that I can now.”

Sanctuary is proving to be another case study in political tribalism and moral relativism, where one man’s constitutional federalism is another man’s overreaching authoritarianism.

Is Sanctuary Another Word for Immunity?

Should law enforcement be granted the professional discretion to pick and choose what laws they want to enforce? Case law brings us back to the county seat of Spurlock’s district and Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

In 1999, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband, Simon Gonzales, restricting him from coming within 100 yards of her and her four children. Simon was the biological father of three of the children—all of whom were girls—and stepfather to the fourth, Jessica’s son from a previous relationship.

Ignoring the restraining order, Simon Gonzales kidnapped the girls. Lenahan-Gonzales pleaded with the Castle Rock Police Department to search Simon’s property. Claiming to not have enough evidence to establish probable cause for a search warrant, the police department refused. Several days after the kidnapping, Simon Gonzales showed up at the police station, where a confrontation with officers escalated into a shootout. Simon Gonzales was killed and police discovered the bodies of the three daughters in his truck.

Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales sued the city of Castle Rock, claiming that the police violated “a federally protected property interest in the enforcement of the restraining order” under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

After six years of appeals, the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court. The highest court ruled 7–2 against Lenahan-Gonzales.

“A benefit is not a protected entitlement if officials have discretion to grant or deny it,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. “Even if the statute could be said to make enforcement ‘mandatory,’ that would not necessarily mean that respondent has an entitlement to enforcement.”

This decision supports the underlying argument that Colorado sheriffs are making against the red flag law: They have professional discretion when it comes to the enforcement of their state’s laws. Furthermore, if this precedent was applied to a future legal challenge, noncompliant law enforcement would not be held legally liable if they refused to serve a court order even if the targeted person subsequently committed a heinous crime. If death and taxes are two guarantees in life, police immunity is a safe bet for the bronze medal.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis reaffirmed this discretion during a press event on March 26.

“Have you jaywalked in the past year?” Polis sarcastically asked a reporter, who asked about the growing opposition to the red flag law at the county level.

The flippant comparison, which earned Polis significant criticism, was the governor’s awkward way of implying that law enforcement has the authority to exercise personal judgment when enforcing all laws.

After successfully passing both Colorado legislative chambers, H.B.1177 was signed into law by Polis on April 12, 2019, making Colorado the 15th state to adopt a red flag law. Sheriff Spurlock participated in the signing ceremony, where he could be seen smiling and applauding the new law alongside legislators and activists.

As Spurlock and supporters celebrate the new law, opponents—primarily, gun rights organizations—are gearing up for a battle in court. On May 2, 2019, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners filed suit against the state of Colorado, alleging that the Colorado General Assembly failed to abide by procedural requirements outlined in the Colorado Constitution. Based on this technical error by the state legislature, the suit argues that the H.B. 1177 should be declared “null, void and of no effect.”

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As a Deadline for Legalizing Marijuana in Illinois Approaches, a New Poll Finds Strong Public Support

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his allies in the state legislature have only one week left in the current session to pass a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Whether they succeed will depend partly on whether legislators believe they have the support of most voters, and a recent poll indicates they do, reinforcing the results of an earlier survey.

In the new poll, commissioned by Think Big Illinois and conducted by the Global Strategy Group in late April and early May with a sample of 802 registered voters, 60 percent of respondents said they supported “legalizing recreational marijuana, taxing it, and regulating it just like alcohol,” while 35 percent opposed that policy. Those results are similar to the numbers from a March poll of 1,000 registered voters by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, which found that 66 percent favored “the legalization of recreational marijuana if taxed and regulated like alcohol.” Given the statistical margins of error (plus or minus 3.5 and 3.1 percentage points, respectively), these findings are essentially the same.

By contrast, a survey of 625 registered voters commissioned by the anti-pot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and conducted in early May by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy found that 41 percent supported “legalizing commercial production, use and sale of marijuana for recreational use.” Although several Illinois news outlets reported that the Mason-Dixon poll showed public support for legalization was slipping, it actually showed that support had risen by 78 percent since a similar SAM-sponsored poll in November 2017.

The gap between the Mason-Dixon poll and the other two surveys illustrates how big an impact the wording of questions can have. Instead of asking voters whether or not they supported legalization, SAM presented them with four options: 1) “keep the current policy of decriminalization and medical marijuana,” 2) “keep the current policy of decriminalization and medical marijuana but also allow for past misdemeanor marijuana convictions to be expunged,” 3) “change the current policy of decriminalization by legalizing commercial production, use and sale of marijuana for recreational use,” or 4) “make all marijuana use illegal.”

SAM argues that its preferred framing provides a more nuanced measure of public opinion. But presenting four options instead of two is bound to dilute support for recreational legalization, and it does not accurately reflect the decision confronting state legislators. SAM also misrepresented current law by telling respondents that “personal marijuana possession is already decriminalized in Illinois.” In fact, possessing more than 10 grams of marijuana—about a third of an ounce, easily a personal-use amount—is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail for a first offense and a felony punishable by one to six years in prison for a second offense.

Perhaps most important, SAM stripped the issue of relevant context by omitting any reference to alcohol or to regulation. The alcohol analogy makes marijuana legalization more logically appealing, while the mention of regulation is surely reassuring to many people.

Even with those advantages, SAM’s poll found that just 9 percent of voters thought marijuana should be completely illegal, down from 18 percent in the group’s 2017 survey. That’s a pretty decisive rejection of a policy that prevailed throughout the country from 1937, when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, until 1996, when California became the first state to allow medical use.

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Todd Levitt, “Badass Lawyer,” Loses a Third Libel-Related Appeal

Longtime readers of the blog may recall Todd Levitt, the self-described “Badass Lawyer.”  As I wrote back in 2016, Levitt’s main client pool was apparently lawyers from Central Michigan University, so he tried to cultivate an edgy image (hence the “Badass” title), and promoted it through YouTube videos and a Twitter feed. This led to three lawsuits:

1. In the first, he sued a CMU student who created a parody of his Twitter feed; a trial court threw out Levitt’s libel lawsuit, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the feed was indeed a parody and thus not libelous. (I argued in the case on behalf of amici, with the help of my invaluable local counsel Michael F. Smith.)

2. In the second, he sued local media outlets for reporting on an award that he had “won,” in the context of reporting on the first case:

In August 2014, The Morning Sun … published an article discussing Levitt I with the headline, “[L]awyer suing student admits to fake award[.]” … The article stated that plaintiff created the website “topcollegelawyers.com,” and that the website announced plaintiff as the winner of a College Lawyer of the Year award.

It’s rarely a good sign for a libel plaintiff when part of the Court of Appeals opinion in his case begins with:

Substantial truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.

The court went on:

In this case, although it is technically true that plaintiff did not “admit” that the College Lawyer of the Year award was “fake” or admit in a court document that he “awarded” the “‘top college lawyer’ recognition … to himself,” we conclude that these inaccuracies do not alter the complexion of the affair and would have no different effect on the mind of the reader than would the literal truth….

[P]laintiff admitted that he commissioned the topcollegelawyers.com website and created the College Lawyer of the Year award to generate profits. He further conceded that he established the criteria for the award, chose the persons who comprised the committee that selected the award recipient, won the award, and then broadcast this as an accomplishment on a marketing website.

3. But wait, there’s more, don’t answer yet, just look at what else you get: Levitt then sued various people for their supposed misconduct stemming from the first two incidents. On Tuesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected those claims as well; here’s a sample of the analysis:

The heart of Levitt’s [intentional infliction of emotional distress] claim appears to be the audio recording of the incident with [Kenneth] Sanney. Specifically, plaintiff objects to [Gordon] Bloem submitting the recording with [Bloem’s] Request for Investigation to the Attorney Grievance Commission. Similarly, plaintiff argues that it was egregious for James Felton [the father of the student whom Levitt sued in the first case] to share the recording with “anybody who wanted it.”

However, the circumstances under which the video was taken were anything but private. Plaintiff’s altercation with Sanney took place on a public sidewalk. And although Sanney may have instigated the incident by calling plaintiff a “clown,” it is clear from the transcript of the recording that plaintiff escalated the confrontation by verbally berating Sanney.

Given those circumstances, James Felton’s decision to audiorecord the incident6and subsequently share it others was not extreme and outrageous. [Footnote: We note that although plaintiff claimed to not be aware that the incident was being recorded, James Felton testified that he removed his phone from his pocket during the incident to begin recording and held his phone by his side thereafter. Thus, while plaintiff may have been distracted by Sanney, there were indications that the incident was being recorded.]

In this day and age, one must accept the possibility that one might be recorded in public. That possibility heightens when one chooses to engage in vitriolic behavior. There is a concomitant possibility that such recordings will be shared with others and posted to the Internet. In sum, we conclude that the recording and sharing of a rant on a public sidewalk cannot reasonably be regarded as extreme and outrageous behavior. [Footnote: We do not mean to suggest that third-party posting or publishing of private statements or activities cannot give rise to a viable action for IIED.]

Similarly, we fail to see how the sharing of materials already published on the Internet supports an IIED claim. For instance, plaintiff takes issue with Angela Felton sharing plaintiff’s Tweets with campus police and CM Life. Plaintiff also relies on Bloem’s decision to send the Attorney Grievance Commission a YouTube skit that plaintiff appeared in. However,  that content was freely available to anyone online, having been published by plaintiff or with his consent. Under those circumstances, a reasonable jury could not conclude that sharing plaintiff’s content with others constitutes extreme and outrageous behavior.

There are other claims, and a return visit of our old friend “The substantial truth of a statement, however, is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.” And it helps understand what makes Levitt’s ass so bad: The skin on it is a titch on the thin side.

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Buttigieg Would Lift ‘Counterproductive’ Tariffs, Which Are Just Taxes on Americans

If elected president, Pete Buttigieg says, he would remove Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports.

In the meantime, he’ll settle for just calling them what they are.

“Tariffs are taxes on Americans—and we talk as if that’s not the case; we forget that Americans are paying them,” Buttigieg said this morning.

That shouldn’t really be noteworthy, but unfortunately it is. President Trump has routinely, and falsely, claimed that the tariffs are being paid by China. On Wednesday, while facing questions from Rep. Cindy Axne (D–Iowa), Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tied himself into knots in a hilarious attempt to avoid admitting that tariffs are taxes.

Mnuchin is the latest in a long line of Trump administration officials put in the awkward position of trying to balance economic reality with the president’s private reality. Trump was reportedly unhappy after Larry Kudlow, a senior economic aide, earlier this month admitted that tariffs are being paid by Americans.

Though he voiced some support for the Trump administration’s overall goal of reshaping China’s behavior, Buttigieg said the use of tariffs has been “counterproductive” and he promised to move in a different direction if he finds himself in the White House in January 2021.

“Tariffs aren’t going to get China to change its economic model or its regional security strategy,” said Buttigieg.

Those comments were part of a wide-ranging and at times rapid-fire interview with The Washington Post‘s Robert Costa. Buttigieg, the current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, held his own while facing questions about domestic and foreign policy, his personal life, and the Trump presidency. He said he would support impeachment proceedings against the president—though he also dismissed the entire mess as being too D.C.-centric to interest most Americans. He also dismissed the notion that he’s too baby-faced to stand on a debate stage with someone like Trump. “I don’t have a problem of standing up to somebody who was working on Season 7 of The Apprentice while I was packing my bags to go to Afghanistan,” he said, a line that seems destined for heavy rotation on the campaign trail.

As he’s done before, Buttigieg distanced himself from the Democratic Party’s left flank. Calling himself a “democratic capitalist,” he said that Democrats have erred for decades by not talking enough about freedom.

That’s something that might attract curious libertarians to his campaign, but as Reason‘s Zuri Davis and others have noted, those statements aren’t quite what they appear. Buttigieg frequently backs them up with promises of greater government involvement in personal and business affairs. For example, on Thursday he argued that bigger government can help freedom by limiting bad outcomes created by the marketplace—like the credit card companies he accused of staking the deck against low-income Americans through mandatory arbitration clauses.

When it comes to trade, Buttigieg’s tack away from the left makes a lot of sense. Polls show Democratic voters—probably due, at least in part, to their distaste for Trump—swinging toward greater support for free trade. A Hill-Harris poll released earlier this month found that 58 percent of Democrats believe Trump’s trade negotiations with China would result in fewer jobs and less economic opportunity. Democratic pollster Simon Rosenberg has pointed out that Trump’s approval rating has been sinking in states where the trade war has been most damaging, including such electorally important states as Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

As the mayor of a Midwestern city, Buttigieg may be uniquely positioned to bring a key message to Trump voters: that tariffs aren’t the answer to their economic woes and that Trump’s trade policies are not producing his promised results. At the very least, it’s good to have another sane voice in a trade debate that’s grown increasingly maddening.

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A Retired NYPD Officer Pleads Guilty to Running a Prostitution Ring

A former New York detective has pleaded guilty to running a major prostitution and gambling ring.

As Reason previously reported, several current and former New York Police Department (NYPD) officers were involved in the operation. Seven current members—three sergeants, two detectives, and two police officers—were arrested and stripped of their badges. The leaders of the operation were retired NYPD detective Ludwig Paz and his wife, Arelis Peralta, who is a former prostitute.

On Tuesday, both Paz and Peralta pleaded guilty. Paz also pleaded to attempted enterprise corruption and promoting prostitution, and he forfeited $20,840 in profits. Following his sentencing in June, he could possibly spend up to 12 years in prison. Peralta pleaded to corruption and was sentenced to spend less than a year in jail.

With allies on the force—and with an intimate knowledge of NYPD procedures—the police brothel survived for at least four years, and perhaps nearly a decade. And it thrived: A three-year Internal Affairs Bureau probe found that the operation brought in $2 million in a single year.

At times, prostitutes provided sex and massages to NYPD officers as a reward for their work on the streets.

Bonus links: Paz is not the first NYPD officer to run a prostitution ring. Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown has done extensive research on officers who have either solicited prostitution or ran their own operations.

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Trump Rant Replaces Infrastructure Meeting as Impeachment Talk Swallows All of Politics

Trump ditches White House policy meeting to rant at reporters. When congressional Democratic leaders showed up at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, they were expecting to talk with President Donald Trump about U.S. infrastructure. The president had other plans.

With Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), and several others ready for the meeting, Trump instead took to a Rose Garden podium for a stream-of-consciousness rant about Russia, obstruction, and Pelosi’s comments earlier in the day. That morning, the House speaker had said Trump had been part of a “coverup” regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Pelosi and other Democrats have been talking a lot about conducting their own investigation into whether Trump obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the matter. But so far, Pelosi has rejected calls for impeachmenteven as many others, including libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), have been suggesting impeachment is appropriate.

“Whether or not they carry the big i-word out, I can’t imagine that, but they probably would because they do whatever they have to do,” Trump said during his impromptu press conference yesterday. The Washington Post reports:

He stayed about 10 minutes, almost all of it a monologue. He took two brief questions and turned to go, ignoring others.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure meeting went on without him. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, among others, remained in the room as Pelosi did some venting of her own, according to three people familiar with the session, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the meeting.


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