Lining Up To Fight “The Forces of Evil” has a thought-provoking article subtitled: “The religious right will mount a scorched-earth battle against the Massachusetts decision to permit same-sex marriage. And the White House may join in.” The article, which you can read here (though you’ll have to do the silly “premium” ad-viewing thing to read all of it), says:

[The religious right] are not afraid. They say they’ve got God, the president and the Republican Party on their side. While gay-rights activists hailed the Massachusetts ruling as an opportunity for gay couples to make the same commitments and enjoy the same rights as everyone else, activists on the religious right — and their allies in the Republican Party — began work to turn their defeat in Massachusetts into a victory in the presidential election next November.

With a large majority of voters opposed to gay marriage, the right sees in the issue a wedge they can use to separate Democratic candidates from voters otherwise inclined to support them. None of the major Democratic contenders actually supports gay marriage — they all back at least a state’s right to offer “civil unions” to gay partners — but the right is confident that it’s got a winning issue regardless.

I hope the Democrats will be able to counter this effectively. The religious right frames issues like this as examples of courts “creating constitutional rights,” or [edited] “endorsing” behavior they view as immoral. But that’s not what the courts are doing. What they are doing is limiting the scope of government, and restricting the realms of private life that the government can regulate and/or criminalize.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court did not “endorse” [edited] gay marriage. It simply found that it is a violation of the State’s constitution for Massachusetts to discriminate on the basis of gender when conferring the legal benefits of civil union on couples.

Nor did the U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, “endorse” [edited] sodomy. It merely said that it was not the government’s business to regulate or criminalize private sexual activity among consenting adults, especially when such regulation or criminalization was not gender-neutral.

Nor did Roe v. Wade “endorse” [edited] abortion. It just held that it was not the government’s business to dictate or regulate a woman’s reproductive health and choices.

The religious right will try to paint a picture of a liberal judiciary run amok, pushing the “gay agenda” or enabling “baby killers.” That is bullshit. What we have is a (usually) responsible judiciary properly restricting the power of the government from regulating private activity, and preventing it from imposing a “moral” agenda upon its citizens through the law.

I am a “card carrying member” of the ACLU. I despise both the neo-nazis/skinheads and the KKK. But I think the ACLU’s successful fight to allow the nazis’ 1977 march through Skokie, Illinois — a largely Jewish area with many Holocaust survivors, obviously selected to maximize the offensive impact of the march — was a great and lasting victory. The ACLU despised the nazis’ message and intent, but recognized that their right to express their opinions — their right to be free from governmental regulation or suppression of their views — was more important. The ACLU’s position, and the courts’ agreement with it, did not [edited] “endorse” the nazis’ hateful message. Rather, their position focused on the inherent limitation on the government’s power to regulate or prohibit the nazis from expressing their message, no matter how despicable the ACLU and the government found it to be.

I think this is a distinction most Americans don’t recognize. I hope the Democratic candidates can figure out how to articulate it effectively.

UPDATE: Where the word “edited” appears in brackets above, I have removed the words “condone” or “condoned” because I had misused those words. See the comments to this post for details.

Thwarting a Useful Jury Experiment?

I don’t necessarily agree with it, but here is an argument that the recent Texas court decision keeping a documentary crew from videotaping a capital jury’s deliberations was wrong. Read it here from the Washington Times.

Judge Detains Five Over Ringing Phones

A judge detained and questioned a row of spectators when a cell phone rang for a third time in her courtroom, later ordering two people to serve community service for contempt of court.

When no one admitted having the ringing phones Wednesday, Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell told all five people in the row to sit in chairs reserved for jail inmates. They stayed there for more than an hour until the morning court call ended.

Boswell found three people in contempt of court because they initially refused to say who had the ringing phones. . . .

“The next time you come to court, don’t bring your cell phone,” Boswell said. “And when the court asks a question, answer the question.”

That sounds a little over-the-top to me. My bet is that Judge Boswell gets censured and apologizes. Details here from the AP via Forbes.

The Faces of Wrongful Conviction

A Conference Examining Wrongful Convictions and the Administration of the Death Penalty in California

April 7 – April 9, 2006 — Hosted by UCLA School of Law

The purpose of this conference is to illustrate both the problem of wrongful conviction and the unfair application of the death penalty in California and to mobilize for change. Since 1990, over 200 people have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated in California. This conference will facilitate the largest gathering of California’s exonerees ever. In addition, new research discussing the causes and prevalence of wrongful conviction in California and demonstrating systemic racial and geographic disparities in the application of the death penalty in this state will be presented.

This conference will offer a series of workshops on the causes of wrongful conviction (i.e., snitch witnesses, mistaken eyewitnesses, junk science, etc.), problems with the death penalty, and opportunities for action. Workshop topics will appeal to: (1) exonerees; (2) lawyers and law students; and (3) activists. Panel speakers will include: prosecutors, jurors, judges, the family members of murder victims, and the family members of people on death row. This conference will also incorporate film, art, drama, and a new book on California exonerees.

This sounds like a great “conference,” and it has a truly impressive lineup of speakers. Check out the details here.

San Francisco Voters Approve Handgun Ban

Voters approved [a] ballot measure[] to ban handguns in San Francisco . . . [on] Tuesday.

With 100 percent of San Francisco precincts reporting, 58 percent of voters backed the proposed gun ban while 42 percent opposed it.

Measure H prohibits the manufacture and sale of all firearms and ammunition in the city, and makes it illegal for residents to keep handguns in their homes or businesses.

Only two other major U.S. cities — Washington and Chicago — have implemented such sweeping handgun bans.

[A]lthough law enforcement, security guards and others who require weapons for work are exempt from the measure, current handgun owners would have to surrender their firearms by April.

This has to violate the 2nd Amendment. Private citizens being forced to surrender their firearms, presumably to the Government???

I consider myself to be a liberal. I also consider the NRA to be an insanely right-wing nutjob group of fanatics, not to be taken seriously. I support rational limits on gun sales and ownership, such as restrictions on assault weapons, background checks, waiting periods, etc.

However, I am also very respectful of our constitution, and I like guns. (Guns are extremely precise machines that I find to be endlessly interesting to look at, disassemble, calibrate, and shoot.)

I am not a hunter and I am not interested in killing living things — including other humans. But I like to shoot at paper targets, which is pretty harmless. It’s like playing darts, except that it involves complicated machines that make very loud noises. Mmm, noises . . . .

My dad is 82 years old. He owns a half dozen or so handguns, including: 1) the Colt 45 my grandfather carried in Europe during his service in World War One; 2) a Civil War era revolver; and 3) a couple of 22 caliber semi-automatic pistols designed for target shooting, including a rare version of the Colt Woodsman.

When my dad dies (which won’t be too long, given that he’s 82), I will inherit these weapons. All of them are antiques. None of them is particularly deadly. None of them would be desireable to someone wishing to commit a crime or kill a lot of people today. Yet I can’t own them in San Francisco. And I’ll have to surrender them?? What am I going to do?

The Second Amendment states, in part: “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

I dislike the NRA, and I want nothing to do with it. However, I’m going to have to stand with it on this one.

In my opinion, the measure approved today banning the ownership of handguns in San Francisco is unconstitutional, as it violates the Second Amendment. It clearly infringes upon my right to “bear arms.” I predict that the courts will eventually so hold.

Do you agree?

UPDATE: The NRA has already filed a lawsuit challenging the ban. As one of the commentors pointed out, the 2nd Amendment only applies to acts of congress, not local regulations. The NRA challenges the law primarily on the ground that it is preempted by or contradicts state law.

Plug for “The Hot Librarian”

You may not appreciate it, but I spend a lot of time dredging through boring, dry news and legal publications trying to find funny or interesting stories to link to for your reading pleasure. Sometimes it sucks.

But once in a while, one of my “sources” throws me a hot link, as Running With Lawyers did this week.

If you don’t already know The Hot Librarian, for God’s sake go meet her now. She may be profane, sophomoric, scatalogical and “immature,” but I think she’s hilarious. (And — bonus points — she is not a lawyer and her site has nothing to do with the law.)