Category: Public Policy

public+defenderSince the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) every state has developed a system of public defense. The decision guaranteed that those accused of felony offenses are entitled to a lawyer under the rights outlined in the 6th Amendment, which include, the right to a jury trial, a public trial, and pertaining to Gideon, “to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” In the wake of the Gideon decision each state was required to develop a system of public defenders to represent those who did not have a legal counsel, and especially those who could not afford a lawyer. Because of low funding for public defense, and the increasing number of cases filling courtrooms, more states are requiring defendants to pay a fee for their assigned defender—whether they are found guilty or not.

An April 2016 New York Times article Fordham University Law professor John Pfaff, highlights more weaknesses in the public defense world and in the odd funding mechanism. Forty-three states now require defendants to pay for a public defender, even though the only reason they have a public defender in the first place is because they cannot afford a lawyer. The Times article highlights the current policy in South Dakota where a defendant is required to pay $92 dollars an hour regardless of the verdict. The result of this policy is that the defendant might have to pay hundreds of dollars a day to be proven innocent for a crime for which he or she was mistakenly arrested.
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publicdefenderThe Atlantic published an article by Dylan Walsh about the growing fight in many states for the right to legal counsel. This article focuses on the state of Louisiana, and looks specifically the Concordia Parish along the Mississippi river. Like many poor, rural areas of the country the Concordia Parish suffers from drug problems and the local courts see a high volume of cases involving illegal substances. The district’s chief public defender’s office handles around 3,300 cases per year, three times what the state recommends. Therein lies the problem.

The spiraling problem in the arena of public defense is the growing number of cases and the parallel need for more lawyers and more funds to pay them. One example given in the Louisiana case claims that some lawyers were being paid $1,000 for 100 cases, or just $10 per case. With this level of income, public defenders in his parishes often need more than one job to cover costs and cannot live on their salary as a lawyer. In one parish, the office stopped representing some accused of certain misdemeanors because of financial needs and understaffing. Walsh quotes the Louisiana Public Defender Board (that oversees each district office) which predicts the “systemic failure in the public-defense system” this summer. The failure began months ago when New Orleans public defenders office announced it would begin refusing certain cases, even serious felonies involving murder and rape.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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large-animalThis past weekend a child fell into pit with a gorilla. To protect the child, the animal had to be killed, a tragic but necessary outcome. The reaction to the news, though, has been unbalanced and excessive. While no one (that I’ve seen) thinks it would be better for the child to have died than the ape be killed, hundreds of thousands of people have expressed their outrage on social media.

In many ways, this likely reflects the distorted values of our society. But the grief and anger also reveal a natural, in some cases Biblical, concern for the welfare of animals.

Although Christians are, according to God, more valuable than animals (Matthew 10:31), we do have a responsibility to care other creatures. Philosopher Douglas Groothuis even argues that “ordinary Christians can be pastors to animals.” He offers several “principles for how Christians can show pastoral concern to animals, whether or not they interact with them regularly and directly.”
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CEI
By now, readers should be aware of the campaign waged against the Competitive Enterprise Institute led by Al Gore and a cadre of attorneys generals with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the top of the rogues’ gallery. The subpoena goes so far as to demand CEI produce “all documents or communications concerning research, advocacy, strategy, reports, studies, reviews or public opinions regarding Climate Change sent or received from” such specifically named think tanks as the Acton Institute, The Heartland Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as industry organizations the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Oil & Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute.

It’s the latest volley from the left – including religious shareholder activists’ often successful efforts to force corporations withdraw financial support and cede membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council – to stifle any whiff of opposition when it comes to the hypothetical, manmade catastrophic climate-change theory. ALEC, in fact, joins Acton and many other groups named in the subpoena, and leaders from these organizations have joined CEI in a strongly worded full-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times last week:

This abuse of power is unacceptable. It is unlawful. And it is un-American.

Regardless of one’s views on climate change, every American should reject the use of government power to harass or silence those who hold differing opinions. This intimidation campaign sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the rights of anyone who disagrees with the government’s position – whether it’s vaccines, GMOs, or any other politically charged issue. Law enforcement officials should never use their powers to silence participants in political debates.

For those who haven’t been shocked out of complacency by this latest, blatant abuse of politically empowered legal authority marshaled in an effort to shut down free speech and exchange of scientific public policy, allow your writer to recap briefly. U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker – one member of Gore and Schneiderman’s lawyerly goon squad, which also includes AGs from California, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State – issued a subpoena to CEI in late March. (more…)

Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.

I want to be very clear from the outset that moral concerns surrounding transgender identity are not unimportant. But in the likely event that we don’t come to any national consensus on that question any time soon, it is important not to overlook other moral and social concerns that are far more pressing. In particular, there are legitimate concerns regarding safety and privacy, no matter which side one favors, but resorting to the force of law will leave some real victims vulnerable.

On the one hand, the Anti-Violence Project’s 2014 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence found that compared to violence among the general population, “Transgender women [i.e. biologically male] survivors were 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence and 1.6 times more likely to experience sexual violence, when compared with other survivors.” I have seen headlines connecting this violence with restroom use in the past, but now that the issue has become politicized those stories are harder to locate. In any case, privacy and safety are real and major concerns for many. We should not be indifferent to this.

On the other hand, according to the CDC,

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.
  • Approximately 1 in 20 women and men (5.6% and 5.3%, respectively) experienced sexual violence other than rape….

Again, privacy and safety are real and major concerns here. We should not be indifferent. (more…)

rules-and-regulationsIn the Old Testament there are 613 commandments. Apparently, God deemed those to be enough to regulate almost every aspect of the lives of his people for thousands of years. You could read all of them in less than 30 minutes.

The American federal government, however, is not so succinct. There are over 1 million restrictions in the federal regulations alone (i.e., not counting the statutory law). And thousands more are added every year.

Each year the Competitive Enterprise Institute puts out annual survey — Ten Thousand Commandments — that reveals the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations. Here are some highlights from the 2016 edition:
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