(Don’t) Call the Federal Cavalry

 

305px-Recruiting_poster_New_York_Mounted_RiflesOur federal government was intended to be one of enumerated powers granted by the states; as such, it was empowered to do only a relative handful of things, and those things were understood to be ones that the states were incapable of doing effectively on their own. Obviously, practice has not always followed theory, but it’s one of the things that’s made our country unusual, diverse in the best sense of the phrase, and responsive to its citizens at the most local level. You might even say that it’s part of what made America great.

If there’s one thing state governments have generally been good at, and that the federal government has generally stayed away from, it’s been in murder prosecutions. Oh, sure, there are exceptions for organized crime and a handful of other things — some more legitimate than others — but the presumption had always been that local crimes are handled by local authorities. But with an increasingly national media and an ever-aggressive federal government, there’s been a trend lately where the feds jump at any opportunity to prosecute high-profile crimes. We saw it in the Boston Marathon Bombing case a few years ago; we saw it applied with even greater absurdity last year after Dylann Roof murdered nine church-goers in Charleston, SC; and — if Rep. Ken Buck and Senator Jeff Sessions get their way, we’ll see it again whenever a police officer is murdered.

As Ilya Somin argues on the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy, the Blue Lives Matter Act — which makes it a federal hate crime “to knowingly causes bodily injury to any person … because of the actual or perceived status of the person as a police officer” — is foolish, unnecessary, and unconstitutional (other than that, though, it’s great). State and local authorities are not only perfectly capable of prosecuting those who attack law enforcement officers, they’re already highly incentivized to do so. Indeed, it’s probably the one thing you can rely on any local authority to do, even the most virulently anti-cop. As Somin puts it:

In some ways, this proposal is even worse than most other outbreaks of fair weather federalism. It is, to some extent, understandable if people want to toss federalism considerations aside in order to address some important problem that states cannot or will not handle on their own. In this case, however, there is no such issue, because state and local governments are perfectly capable of prosecuting violent crimes against police, and have strong incentives to do so. Blue lives most certainly do matter. But not everything that matters must be the subject of federal legislation.

Moreover, the constitutional justification for the BLMA is, at best, incredibly weak, if not patently unconstitutional. Given the history of similar laws, it would almost certainly rely on the sort of expansive reading of the Commerce Clause that make one wonder why the Framers bothered to list any other powers; either that, or the government would likely have to present it as a Thirteenth Amendment case, which is every bit as weird as it sounds. It’s a marginal improvement over Donald Trump’s promise to ensure the death penalty for cop-killers through executive order, but this is not a terribly high standard to clear.

It’s totally understandable that — after seeing Leftist politicians get away with usurping political and constitutional authority to push their pet projects — that our side is eager to even the score and use the same tactics against them for better causes (and it’s hard to think of a much better cause than prosecuting murderer, let alone the murder of those entrusted with protecting us from murder). It’s still wrong in this case.

There are 16 comments.

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  1. JRez Inactive
    JRez
    @JRez

    Call the Cavalry instead?

    • #1
  2. PJ Inactive
    PJ
    @PJ

    I blame Schoolhouse Rock.  Sure, “I’m Just a Bill” is cute, catchy, and, at some level, informative about the process of getting legislation through Congress.  But the legislation in question, you may recall, is to require school buses to stop at railroad crossings, i.e., a local traffic matter.  And it makes us root for the cute little bill and cheer when it passes.

    We need a new version where the congressman says, “You’re right, that oughta be a local regulation.  Please call your mayor or school board member.  Now, let me get back to this cute little bill to eliminate the Department of Education.”

    • #2
  3. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    JRez:

    Call the Cavalry instead?

    I did! (Fixed.)

    • #3
  4. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    I hate hate crime laws. Murder is already illegal.

    • #4
  5. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton
    @CrabbyAppleton

    It may be “unnecessary”, may be unconstitutional (although consideration and respect for a law’s constitutionality has never been the strong suit of federal legislators or executors) and almost certainly will go nowhere, but it addresses to some extent the level of frustration of ordinary citizens.  Doe the name Mumia Abu Jamal ring a bell?

    • #5
  6. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I’m entirely with you.  As much as I hate the subversion of Federalism by the left, I might get even more worked up over it when it comes from our side.  Maybe it’s from frustration, because I expect conservatives to believe in Federalism, even when it’s a limitation on things we might like.  I expect principle out of our side, and I hate seeing some of us cheering on blatant violations of those principles.

    Federalism and states’ rights are bedrock Constitutional principles for me.  I love my state, and I hate seeing our states—the primary governing bodies in our system—reduced to administrative subdivisions of a “nation” in which every issue of substance is hashed out in Washington, leaving the states free only to work out the details of pothole repair…provided they do so in a way that has no disparate impact on minority neighborhoods, or they’d risk being told how to do that, too.

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I’ve long thought this to be an important issues that should get lots of attention from conservatives. Let’s talk about Trump instead.

    • #7
  8. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    I thought the Republican Party was supposed to be the limited government/states rights party.  What are two Republicans doing pushing for a federal takeover of prosecutions?  Hopefully this will be quashed.

    • #8
  9. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Randy Weivoda:I thought the Republican Party was supposed to be the limited government/states rights party. What are two Republicans doing pushing for a federal takeover of prosecutions? Hopefully this will be quashed.

    All part of the trend toward nationalizing the nation’s police forces – often pushed by Republicans as much as Democrats.  I started to get disturbed by the trend during the reign of George Bush the Elder, though I think liberals had been against it prior to that.  (Think back to the days when there were actual liberals.)

    • #9
  10. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Crabby Appleton:

    It may be “unnecessary”, may be unconstitutional (although consideration and respect for a law’s constitutionality has never been the strong suit of federal legislators or executors) and almost certainly will go nowhere, but it addresses to some extent the level of frustration of ordinary citizens. Does the name Mumia Abu Jamal ring a bell?

    Oh, very much so; I’ve heard multiple interviews with the Officer Faulkner’s widow, who’s been having to deal with this nightmare since I was in diapers; makes my blood boil. It’s a travesty of justice that the guy hasn’t been executed.

    Then again, he’d be every bit as much alive if he’d been convicted of federal hate crimes against cops.

    • #10
  11. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Sigh.  (Good people having bad ideas)

    • #11
  12. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Liberals have been trying to federalize local law enforcement  for many decades and mindless Republicans go along because, well, gee hate’s  bad right? And killing cops?    Why does the left want to Federalize local law enforcement?   There are the corrupt budget, power  patronage reasons and then there are the scary reasons.  I think the scary reasons are more important.   We should be stripping the federal government of authorities not adding to them. Why is this not obvious?

    • #12
  13. Salvatore Padula Inactive
    Salvatore Padula
    @SalvatorePadula

    TG: “Sigh. (Good people having bad ideas)”

    Agreed. That’s why it is particularly important that politicians, even (or perhaps especially) conservative politicians, also be committed constitutionalists. Structure matters just as much as as policy. Unfortunately, for many on the right constitutional fidelity is more a pretext for policy positions than it is a genuinely held belief.

    • #13
  14. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Crabby Appleton:It may be “unnecessary”, may be unconstitutional (although consideration and respect for a law’s constitutionality has never been the strong suit of federal legislators or executors) and almost certainly will go nowhere, but it addresses to some extent the level of frustration of ordinary citizens. Doe the name Mumia Abu Jamal ring a bell?

    Making a Federal Case out of something is symbolic—this bill is an attempt to signal support for police officers in a  time when they/we are feeling beleaguered. (Have I already expressed outrage because Hillary is campaigning with Michael Brown’s mother?) (not Wenjen Liu’s mother, not Rafael Ramos’ mother…). It’s nice of them, I guess, but murder is already a crime, and states already prosecute the murder of a police officer pretty enthusiastically.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    (Have I already expressed outrage because Hillary is campaigning with Michael Brown’s mother?) (not Wenjen Liu’s mother, not Rafael Ramos’ mother…). It’s nice of them, I guess, but murder is already a crime, and states already prosecute the murder of a police officer pretty enthusiastically.

    And she did so eight months after the DoJ report exhonorating Darren Wilson, too. That’s reprehensible.

    • #15
  16. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    (Have I already expressed outrage because Hillary is campaigning with Michael Brown’s mother?) (not Wenjen Liu’s mother, not Rafael Ramos’ mother…). It’s nice of them, I guess, but murder is already a crime, and states already prosecute the murder of a police officer pretty enthusiastically.

    And she did so eight months after the DoJ report exhonorating Darren Wilson, too. That’s reprehensible.

    Yes. It really, really is.

    • #16

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