Editorial: Groups should not be forced to reveal donors

The uberliberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Nevada, recently struck another blow against free speech, saying the state of California may force non-profits to reveal their donors.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2016 a federal judge ruled that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation did not have to give its donor list to the California attorney general’s office. 

Judge Manuel Real agreed with the foundation’s lawyers that the state had no legitimate law-enforcement interest in obtaining the names. He also said that the attorney general’s failure to keep donor names confidential subjected donors to a risk of harassment and retaliation.

The 9th Circuit panel shrugged this off and found the attorney general had a “strong interest” in obtaining donor names in order to investigate potential fraud.

This is significant for Nevada because there is a law on the books here that says any group that engages in “express advocacy” in elections must register with the Secretary of State and report donors and expenditures. 

In 2013 a Carson City judge fined a Virginia-based group called Alliance for America’s Future (AAF) more than $100,000 for airing television commercials praising Brian Sandoval’s conservatism during the gubernatorial campaign of 2010. Though the group argued the law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the judge found in the penumbra of the Constitution a whole new right.

He wrote, “No amount of civil penalties can redress the injury to Nevada voters caused by refusal to timely provide them with the information to which they are entitled, thus there is no adequate remedy at law.” 

He ruled the voters are entitled to the names of donors who sponsored the message, which would have been a surprise to James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine, all of whom wrote anonymously. 

In 2014 AAF reached a settlement with Secretary of State Ross Miller before the case reached the state Supreme Court. The group paid a $40,000 fine, registered as a political action committee and filed contribution and expenditure reports. 

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC let stand the requirement under McCain-Feingold that donors be revealed, Justice Clarence Thomas made a compelling argument that it is clearly an abridgment of free speech  rights to force people to surrender their right to anonymously express their views about elections, candidates and issues with donations to like-minded groups.

Thomas’ dissent concluded that such laws had spawned a cottage industry that uses forcibly disclosed donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree. 

Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

In the recent California case one of the groups siding with the foundation was the NAACP. In 1958 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Alabama could not force the NAACP to reveal its donors, citing the potential for intimidation and violence against donors. 

But the 9th Circuit panel dismissed this concern. Though the panel admitted, “The Foundation’s evidence undeniably shows that some individuals publicly associated with the Foundation have been subjected to threats, harassment or economic reprisals,” it shrugged this off by concluding, “Such harassment, however, is not a foregone conclusion.” 

What if the threats had been to the judiciary?

Americans for Prosperity has said it will seek a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit, and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if that fails. By all means appeal, and we urge the Nevada attorney general to file a friend of the court brief in support.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (Getty Images via WSJ)

Travel ban about national security, not religious bias

Many of the news articles and opinion pieces penned about the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Trump’s so-called travel ban totally ignored a key word that was at the core of the 5-4 ruling — the verb “to vet,” which appears 32 times in the syllabus, opinion, concurrences and dissents.

The travel ban was not about banning Muslims from entry, but was about restricting travel and immigration from nations that fail to or, due to unrest, cannot adequately document whether individuals from their jurisdictions might pose a threat to public safety.

In the court opinion Chief Justice John Roberts explains:

The Proclamation is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices. The text says nothing about religion. Plaintiffs and the dissent nonetheless emphasize that five of the seven nations currently included in the Proclamation have Muslim-majority populations. Yet that fact alone does not support an inference of religious hostility, given that the policy covers just 8% of the world’s Muslim population and is limited to countries that were previously designated by Congress or prior administrations as posing national security risks.

But the plaintiffs harped on Trump’s campaign stump rhetoric, claiming it was a window into an ulterior motive of religious animus that they claimed was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. For example, Trump once called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

In his concurrence Justice Clarence Thomas observed:

Further, the Establishment Clause does not create an individual right to be free from all laws that a “reasonable observer” views as religious or antireligious. … The plaintiffs cannot raise any other First Amendment claim, since the alleged religious discrimination in this case was directed at aliens abroad. … And, even on its own terms, the plaintiffs’ proffered evidence of anti-Muslim discrimination is unpersuasive.

Roberts pointed out the crux of the rationale for the travel ban was adequately backed up, “The Proclamation (as its title indicates) sought to improve vetting procedures by identifying ongoing deficiencies in the information needed to assess whether nationals of particular countries present “public safety threats.” … To further that purpose, the Proclamation placed entry restrictions on the nationals of eight foreign states whose systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals the President deemed inadequate.”

Thomas also took the opportunity to thump the lower court judges for engaging in issuing “universal” dictates that no law or constitution grants them the power to do.

The travel ban is and was about national security not religious bias.

Of course, the decision also revealed to Nevada voters where certain candidates stand on this matter. Television station KRNV in Reno quoted both senatorial candidates.

Republican Dean Heller’s office issued a statement saying, “Sen. Heller believes that the Supreme Court got this right. The policy reviewed was significantly narrowed in scope compared to the initial version of the travel ban, and the court’s ruling affirmed its legality based on legitimate national security interests.”

His Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen of Las Vegas, said, “Denying individuals entry to the U.S. based solely on religion or nationality is wrong and out of touch with our American values. This travel ban won’t help keep us safe, and I will continue to stand up against this Administration’s ignorant and xenophobic policies.”

Nevada’s other Democratic representatives in Washington joined the chorus in opposing anything any Republican ever does no matter what.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto declared, “This decision flies in the face of our nation’s founding principle of religious freedom. President Trump’s Muslim Ban is in direct opposition to American principles and sends yet another prejudiced message to Muslim-Americans, refugees and immigrants.”

Lame-duck Rep. Ruben Kihuen complained, “Today the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s racist and discriminatory Muslim Ban which further erodes our leadership position in the world and is just another example of the Trump Administration tearing families apart. The United States is made stronger every day through our diversity.”

Rep. Dina Titus sweepingly declared, “Today’s decision upholds a misguided xenophobic ban that does nothing to make us safer. Banning the people of an entire religion from immigrating to the U.S. is a betrayal of our nation’s founding principles of religious freedom and tolerance.”

We assume she missed the part about the ban affecting only 8 percent of Muslims or that people can seek case-by-case waivers.

Protests in front of Supreme Court. (Getty images)

Newspaper column: High court should stand firmly for free speech

Jack Phillips decorates a cake. (Reuters pix via WaPo)

It has long been agreed that the First Amendment right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak, but this past week the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to skirt this simple premise, though it ruled in favor of a Colorado cake baker who refused in 2012 to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple for a different reason.

The court’s 7-2 ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., instead hinged on the fact the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was inconsistent in its rulings relating to issues of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that on at least three occasions the state Civil Rights Commission held that bakers who refused to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage did so lawfully.

“The treatment of the conscience-based objections at issue in these three cases contrasts with the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ objection,” Kennedy wrote. “The Commission ruled against Phillips in part on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the other cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.”

Kennedy added that the commission’s disparate treatment of Phillips violated the state’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.

“The Free Exercise Clause bars even ‘subtle departures from neutrality’ on matters of religion. … Here, that means the Commission was obliged under the Free Exercise Clause to proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said.

As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas countenanced no tolerance for such nuanced, too-narrow rulings and tackled the matter head on in a concurrence that was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. Thomas said Phillips rightly prevailed on his free exercise claim, but the court failed to address his free speech claim.

Thomas wrote that the appellate court rationalized that Phillips was defying Colorado’s public-accommodations law and not acting as a speaker. “This reasoning flouts bedrock prin¬ciples of our free-speech jurisprudence and would justify virtually any law that compels individuals to speak,” he concluded.

Thomas said public-accommodation laws may regulate conduct, but not expression of ideas, citing a case in which the high court ruled unanimously that the sponsor of a St. Patrick’s Day parade could not be forced to include a group of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Irish-Americans, because that violated the sponsor’s right to free speech.

“While this Court acknowledged that the unit’s exclusion might have been ‘misguided, or even hurtful” … it rejected the notion that governments can mandate ‘thoughts and statements acceptable to some groups or, indeed, all people’ as the ‘antithesis’ of free speech …” Thomas explained.

He further noted that the court has held that communication of ideas can be conveyed by symbolism as well as words — such as nude dancing, burning the American flag, flying a flag upside-down, wearing a military uniform, wear¬ing a black armband, conducting a silent sit-in, refusing to salute the flag and flying a plain red flag.

Thomas said that the court’s previous ruling that the Constitution protects the right to same-sex marriage does not mean those who disagree are not entitled to express that opinion.

“Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day,” Justice Thomas concluded. “But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing (the right to same-sex marriage) from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’”

There are cases waiting in the wings that might afford an opportunity to fully recognize freedom of speech when it comes to whether a business may be compelled to offer its services for same-sex weddings — these include a florist in Washington state, a web designer in Colorado and a calligrapher in Arizona.

Hopefully, the court will be more forthright and specific in favor of free speech in on of those or some other case.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Second Amendment is not a second-class right

Do the courts treat the Second Amendment like a second-class right?

Supreme Court Justice Clarence believes they do and makes a compelling argument.

This past week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding a California law requiring a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of any firearm. Justice Thomas penned a scathing 14-page dissent.

“The Second Amendment protects ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,’ and the Fourteenth Amendment requires the States to respect that right …” Thomas writes. “Because the right to keep and bear arms is enumerated in the Constitution, courts cannot subject laws that burden it to mere rational-basis review.”

Thomas says the 9th Circuit upheld the 10-day waiting law based solely on its own determination that it was “common sense,” without requiring any supporting evidence and without acknowledging a lower court’s factual findings that caused it to agree with plaintiffs that the law was unconstitutional when it was applied to people who already own guns, because it would not serve as a “cooling off” period for those who might use a firearm to harm themselves or others.

Thomas’ dissent notes that the 9th Circuit ignored the testimony previously given despite the legal requirement to weigh its validity. “California’s expert identified only one anecdotal example of a subsequent purchaser who had committed an act of gun violence, and the expert conceded that a waiting period would not have deterred that individual,” the justice observes, noting the appellate court allowed California to justify its waiting period with mere “rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data …”

The courts are picking and choosing what constitutional rights to favor and which to ignore, Thomas argues, calling it “emblematic of a larger trend.” For example, the 9th Circuit struck an Arizona law that established a “cooling off” period for a woman seeking an abortion. It also invalidated a county ordinance requiring a five-day waiting period to obtain a nude-dancing license because it interfered with the First Amendment right of free expression. In another case, the 9th held that laws embracing traditional marriage failed because they were based on no evidence other than speculation, though such law reflects “thousands of years of human history in every society known to have populated the planet.”

Thomas does not let his own court off without a few verbal wrist slaps. He notes, “We have not heard argument in a Second Amendment case for nearly eight years. … And we have not clarified the standard for assessing Second Amendment claims for almost 10. Meanwhile, in this Term alone, we have granted review in at least five cases involving the First Amendment and four cases involving the Fourth Amendment — even though our jurisprudence is much more developed for those rights. If this case involved one of the Court’s more favored rights, I sincerely doubt we would have denied certiorari.”

The four liberal members of the court are singled out for chiding by Thomas. He says those four would have agreed to hear a case involving a 10-day cooling off period for abortion or a case involving a 10-day cooling off period for publication of racist articles or a case involving even a 10-minute delay at a traffic stop while a dog sniffed the vehicle.

“The Court would take these cases because abortion, speech, and the Fourth Amendment are three of its favored rights,” Thomas writes. “The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this Court’s constitutional orphan.”

All enumerated rights in the Constitution should be accorded their proper respect and none relegated to a second-class status, subject to different standards.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

 

Newspaper column: Nevada should challenge constitutionality of federal pot law

A week ago the Trump administration rescinded a series of Obama administration memos instructing federal prosecutors to back off enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it, sending legal pot businesses into a dither, including those in Nevada.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state law clashes with federal drug law. Justice Department officials said the previous administration’s stance allowed states to flout federal law.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt sent out an email saying his office is reviewing the change in the Justice Department’s stance on federal pot law enforcement and evaluating the ramifications for the state

“Although I opposed the Question 2 ballot initiative proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada, I also pledged to defend the measure were it approved by the voters,” Laxalt stated. “Since Questions 2’s enactment, my office has vigorously defended it against two related lawsuits that threatened to slow or even halt the implementation of the law, and has further assisted with the formulation and adoption of regulations to allow dispensaries to commence sales of recreational marijuana within just six months of the law’s enactment. My office has expeditiously facilitated the implementation of the law in the face of considerable uncertainty about the status of federal enforcement activity.”

We suggest that the state’s attorney do what attorneys do: Sue.

The states aren’t flouting federal law, Congress is flouting the Constitution. If it took a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to make alcohol illegal during Prohibition, the same should be true for marijuana.

The 10th Amendment clearly states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere does the Constitution grant that power to Congress.

In fact, the divided Supreme Court decision upholding Congress’ power to ban marijuana is an absurdity constructed from a fatuity and makes a mockery of the principles of federalism.

In the case of Gonzales v. Raich, the high court found that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to prohibit a person from growing marijuana for her own consumption because it could affect interstate commerce. The court cited as precedent the New Deal-era case of Wickard v. Filburn, which said a farmer who grew wheat for his own consumption affected interstate commerce because, if he had not done so, he would’ve had to purchase wheat, thus affecting the market and price for wheat.

Thus the court essentially erased any distinction between interstate and intrastate commerce or even no commerce at all. Whatever the imagination can conjure.

 In his dissent in the pot case, Justice Clarence Thomas fumed, “Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything — and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.”

Thomas added, “This makes a mockery of (James) Madison’s assurance (in Federalist Paper No. 45) to the people of New York that the ‘powers delegated’ to the Federal Government are ‘few and defined,’ while those of the States are ‘numerous and indefinite.’”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also raised the issue of federalism, writing in dissent in Raich, “Relying on Congress’ abstract assertions, the Court has endorsed making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one’s own home for one’s own medicinal use. This overreaching stifles an express choice by some States, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently. If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative; if I were a California legislator I would not have supported the Compassionate Use Act. But whatever the wisdom of California’s experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case.”

With the court now more originalist in its composition, the arguments of Thomas and O’Connor might hold sway in a constitutional challenge of the federal marijuana law, should Laxalt and the attorneys general of the states that have legalized pot press the matter.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Editorial: Forfeiture of property should be tied to a conviction

A couple of weeks ago we editorially bemoaned the fact that no one had introduced a bill in the state Legislature to restrict the practice of law enforcement agencies seizing private property — homes, cars, cash and such — under the presumption it is the product of criminal activity, but without ever having to actually go through the due process of convicting someone of a crime — a process called civil asset forfeiture.

That same week state Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks filed Senate Bill 358 that would require proof of a criminal conviction, a plea agreement or an agreement by the parties concerned before property could be forfeited.

Humboldt deputy seized cash

The bill is almost identical to a bill Gustavson and James Settelmeyer of Minden sponsored during the 2015 legislative session. By the time that bill came out the legislative sausage grinder it merely required police agencies to report their confiscations to the state. As the law currently reads, property may be confiscated and kept or sold without the property’s owner ever being convicted or even charged with a criminal offense.

Though the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …” police agencies in cooperation with federal law enforcement have for years coerced people into surrendering assets that become the property of the agency — a perverse incentive indeed.

Gustavson’s bill “provides that property is subject to forfeiture only if the underlying crime provides  for such forfeiture, and there is: (1) proof of a criminal conviction; (2) a plea agreement; or (3) an agreement by the parties.” It also “requires the State to establish that seized property is forfeitable by clear and convincing evidence.”

Gustavson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week, “Under current civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement can seize your cash or other property, sell and then use most of the proceeds however they see fit, even though you are never arrested or even charged with a crime. Passage of Senate Bill 358 does not limit law enforcement’s ability to combat drug cartels and other criminal activity. The intent of this legislation is to protect the innocent individual’s liberty and property right and to keep law abiding citizens from becoming entangled in the process that results in their rights being trampled. An innocent tourist driving back to Utah after winning a $1,000 jackpot at a local casino can have his money confiscated though he or she has not been accused of any crime.”

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, which has advocated civil asset forfeiture law reform for years, also testified. He said law enforcement has the power to take the fruits of criminal activity but that it should be done via criminal forfeiture rather than civil forfeiture.

“The appropriate process that is due is criminal forfeiture,” McGrath said. “It makes sense to charge, arrest and convict the suspect of a crime. If convicted in the same courtroom, the same judge can turn to the question, and it should be an easy question, of whether the cash, whether the vehicle are the proceeds and the instruments of a crime.”

The attorney general’s office, various law enforcement officials and district attorneys testified against the bill, saying the current system is not abused, though others testified to the contrary.

There is a case pending in the courts in which Texas police seized $200,000 in cash, claiming it was the profits of illegal drug trade, though the owners said it was from a the sale of a house. The bill of sale was with the cash. No one was ever convicted of any crime and the police still have the money.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a six-page commentary on the Texas case sighting the evils of civil asset forfeiture, “These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings. … Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.”

Nevada has its own record of suspect civil asset forfeiture cases. Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists.

Some states have passed laws similar to the one being advocated by Gustavson to curb the extortionate practice by police by requiring an actual criminal conviction before assets may be taken. This bill is needed to protect citizens and assure due process.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.