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A week ago the Trump administration rescinded a series of Obama administration memos instructing federal prosecutors to back off enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it, sending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.

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Newspaper column: DACA rhetoric just muddies the waters

Pro-DACA gathering in Las Vegas earlier this month. (R-J pix)

The vitriol being spewed over President Trump’s suspension of Obama’s executive fiat to defer deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children is nothing more than pretentious and pointless political patronizing.

Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Washington was unmatched in its heated hyperbole.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called Trump a racist and a xenophobe, firing off a missive declaring the “decision to end DACA protections for DREAMers is not guided by sound policy, but by xenophobia and myths. DREAMers who benefit from DACA know no other country other than the U.S. Denying them DACA protection unjustly rips away their future, exposes them to job loss, and threatens them with deportation from the only country they have ever known.”

For the acronym deprived, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the name given by Obama to an executive order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. DREAMers is a derivation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has been pending in various forms in Congress since August of 2001 without passage.

When Congress failed to act, Obama took it on his own in June 2012 to do what Congress had not.

Even though Trump gave Congress six months to remedy his rescinding of DACA and pass the DREAM Act, Rep. Jacky Rosen declared it was wrong to invite “these young people to come out of the shadows, raise their hands, and make themselves known, the United States made a promise to those who came here as children. President Trump is now reneging on that promise …”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, making the obligatory observation that he was once an undocumented immigrant brought here by his parents, said in an email that the decision tramples this country’s values and shatters the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 who have signed up for DACA. He called the decision “heartless and cruel.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Ending DACA appeals to xenophobic beliefs and goes against the founding principles of our nation” — ignoring the fact it was Obama who made a promise he had no power to make.

In a statement announcing the DACA decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

In contrast to Nevada’s Democratic delegates, its Republicans reacted by saying it is now time for Congress to do its job.

Sen. Dean Heller issued a statement to the Reno newspaper saying, “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller noted that he is a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for so-called DREAMers while Congress works toward a permanent solution to immigration problems.

“Just as I have in the past, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to reform our broken immigration system and that must start with securing our borders …” Heller’s statement continued.

Rep. Mark Amodei put out a statement noting that he is a sponsor of a bill called Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide a way for childhood immigrants to earn legal residency.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve called on congressional leadership to act on immigration reform. I would always rather be criticized for attempting to move this issue toward a solution, than criticized for repeated inaction,” Amodei said in a statement. “Now, Congress has six months to do the job it’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. If we’re unable to do that job, then 800,000 immigrants will be affected.”

Amodei further noted that Congress has not passed any substantive immigration reform since Ronald Reagan was president, three decades ago, adding that if any blame is to be attached to this it is rightfully Congress’.

The Democrats’ rancorous rhetoric does nothing to move toward a compromise and might well jeopardize that goal, especially if they categorically reject border security as a part of the package.

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.

Sessions threatens to rope media into his hunt for leakers

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is threatening to revise longstanding Justice Department policy giving leeway to the press. Though he justified his tightening of the screws by saying it is to protect “our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans,” the event that prompted his remarks — the leaking of President Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders — was merely embarrassing due to Trump’s own behavior.

“No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information,” Sessions said. “No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders.”

Jeff Sessions on leaks (Getty pix)

Why? Isn’t Trump representing the citizens of this country? Shouldn’t they know how good a job he is doing, or not?

Many police departments are requiring cops to wear body cams this days — not to catch them being abusive, but to protect them from false accusations. Perhaps, the president and members of Congress should wear body cams while on duty and everyone would know everything is on the record, out front, subject to scrutiny.

Sessions said his agency is “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”

Lives at risk when Trump tells Mexico’s leader he shouldn’t say he will not pay for the wall? In fact, that too involved the media. He told Mexican President ­Enrique Peña Nieto, “You cannot say that to the press.”

The Justice Department policy currently states:

Because freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of members of the news media to investigate and report the news, the Department’s policy is intended to provide protection to members of the news media from certain law enforcement tools, whether criminal or civil, that might unreasonably impair newsgathering activities. …

In determining whether to seek information from, or records of, members of the news media, the approach in every instance must be to strike the proper balance among several vital interests: Protecting national security, ensuring public safety, promoting effective law enforcement and the fair administration of justice, and safeguarding the essential role of the free press in fostering government accountability and an open society.

It is not carte blanche. It is a balance. But this policy has frequently been skirted or roundly ignored.

But apparently a supersensitive Trump is tipping the balance.

Been there, done that.

In 2009 the feds subpoenaed the Las Vegas newspaper for information about commenters on one of its stories. Some of the comments suggested violence might be visited upon certain feds involved in a high-profile criminal case. The paper resisted the fishing expedition, but conceded when the request was narrowed to a couple of people.

“We will give them what we have, which frankly isn’t much, since most postings are anonymous,” I said at the time.

I also said, “I’d hate to be the guy who refused to tell the feds (Timothy) McVeigh was buying fertilizer” used to make the bomb that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Sessions concluded, “Finally, here is what I want to tell every American today: This nation must end the culture of leaks. We will investigate and seek to bring criminals to justice. We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer.”
Just because something is classified doesn’t mean it is to protect national security. Too often it is keep it from the prying eyes of voters. Think: Pentagon Papers and NSA spying.

 

Newspaper column: Police should not seize property without a conviction

President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a reputation as a law-and-order guy, but the plan he announced this past week to step up civil asset forfeiture efforts skirts the law and jeopardizes order.

The plan is to reverse an Obama administration policy that restricted how often federal agencies would accept property — cash, vehicles, homes, airplanes — seized by local police agencies under suspicion it was used to perpetrate a crime such as drug dealing. That seized property is sold and the local police get 80 percent of the profits to spend as they see fit. This is called “equitable sharing.”

Sessions rationalized his policy change by saying “civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement, funding priorities like new vehicles, bulletproof vests, opioid overdose reversal kits, and better training.”

Often property is seized and no one is ever convicted of an actual crime. The owner of the cash or property essentially must prove themselves innocent in a civil court.

In a 2010 report called “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” the Institute for Justice (IJ) noted that the practice provides an incentive for local police to seize property to boost their budgets.

Humboldt County deputy seized cash.

Sessions’ revised seizure policy allows local agencies to skirt state laws that restrict civil asset forfeitures. In 2014, the Justice Department reported $4.5 billion in asset forfeiture revenue.

In this past session of the Nevada Legislature Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks filed a bill that would have required proof of a criminal conviction, a plea agreement or an agreement by the parties concerned before property could be forfeited. The bill died without a vote.

“Nevada forfeiture law provides paltry protection for property owners from wrongful forfeitures,” the IJ reports. “The government may seize your property and keep it upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than many states but still lower than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But the burden falls on you to prove that you are an innocent owner by showing that the act giving rise to the forfeiture was done without your knowledge, consent or willful blindness. Further, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the revenue raised from the sale of forfeited property.”

Still, Nevada local law enforcement often engages in “equitable sharing” with federal agencies, according to IJ, which resulted in $21 million accruing to the local agencies over a decade.

There have been a number of instances in Nevada in which property was seized without anyone ever being charged with a crime.

In January 2013 police seized $167,000 from a man driving a motor home westbound along Interstate 80 in Elko County. A judge just recently ordered the money returned.

Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists. One deputy was caught on tape telling a tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running an office for her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud. The sister was never charged. A federal judge called the forfeiture effort “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench.”

This happened though the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”

In his policy announcement Sessions admitted there can be problems with asset forfeitures, but he promised to “protect the rights of the people we serve. Law-abiding people whose property is used without their knowledge or without their consent should not be punished because of crimes that others have committed.”

That promise hardly constitutes “due process of law.”

Congress should rein in this abuse-prone practice.

In fact, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan have reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act.

“The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process,” Paul said, “while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime.”

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.

EPA chief clueless on climate change facts

Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, insisted that climate change science is a settled topic and no heresies are allowed, but she can’t offer any facts to back up her religion.

She claimed droughts “are becoming more extreme and frequent,” but the opposite is true.

She claimed hurricanes are more frequent and more intense, but the opposite is true.

She claims climate change is real and it is happening now. But Bjorn Lomborg, writing in The Wall Street Journal, reports, “The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.”

Never let the facts get in the way in the way of your dogma.

Gina McCarthy grilled by Jeff Sessions. (IBD photo)

 

Attorney general nominee finds a ‘right’ to work for illegals

Can Obama pick ’em or not?

His nominee for attorney general to replace race hustler Eric Holder told Congress during her hearing that everyone has a “right” to work, whether they are in the country legally or not.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions set up his question about Obama’s unilateral amnesty executive orders — the first for children brought here illegally and then for their parents — by pointing out how many citizens and people with green cards are unemployed and asking who has more right to a job in this country — citizens, unlawful immigrants or illegals?

Loretta Lynch (WSJ photo)

“Senator,” Loretta Lynch replied, “I believe the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country, regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone is here — regardless of status — I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not participating in the workplace.”

Never mind that more than 10.4 percent of the black labor force is unemployed. Obama and his nominee can throw them under the bus, because they’re going to vote for Democrats anyway. Go for the Hispanic vote.

Besides, where in the penumbra of the Constitution is this “right” to a job hidden?