Law as Ordered
George Szamuely
New York Press


Though the U.S. prison population currently stands at two million, Clinton appears to be of the opinion that state and local authorities are not coping with the nonexistent crime epidemic. The other day, flanked by the revolting Janet Reno, the President was once again fuming that Congress has yet to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Clinton wants to set federal prosecutors on any criminal suspect whose motive may have been determined by the victim’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability. "These are not like other crimes, because these crimes target people simply because of who they are. And because they do, they strike at the heart of who we are as a nation," he pontificated.

It is a little hard to think of criminals who do not "target people because of who they are." They tend to rob little old ladies rather than Mike Tyson, say. Rapists tend to target women, rather than men. And so on. Government crackdown in search of a justification – this has been the abiding theme of the Clinton administration. In May 1998 Clinton signed something called Executive Order 13083. This listed the circumstances in which the federal government had to step in to "limit the policymaking discretion of States and local governments." It turned out to be an amazingly comprehensive list: "When there is a need for uniform national standards… When decentralization increases the costs of government thus imposing additional burdens on the taxpayer… When States have not adequately protected individual rights and liberties... When States would be reluctant to impose necessary regulations because of fears that regulated business activity will relocate to other States… When the matter to be regulated significantly or uniquely affects Indian tribal governments."

Leave aside for a moment the dubious constitutionality of these proposals. Doesn’t the 10th Amendment say, "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"? Clinton was decreeing that on a vast range of issues unelected federal government bureaucrats would override laws passed by elected state legislators and governors.

Clinton’s enthusiasm for repression is truly extraordinary. From the moment he came to power he sought to crack down on the Internet. His moment came with the 1996 Communications Decency Act. When – inevitably – the Supreme Court struck it down for violating the First Amendment, he declared plaintively: "The administration remains firmly committed to the provisions…that prohibit the transmission of obscenity over the Internet and via other media... [T]here is material on the Internet that is clearly inappropriate for children. As a parent, I understand the concerns that parents have about their children accessing inappropriate material. If we are to make the Internet a powerful resource for learning, we must give parents and teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for children." To hell with the First Amendment, in other words.

The arrogance is breathtaking. One can easily use this argument to justify the suppression of almost everything. It is probably what is in Clinton’s mind anyway. At the behest of Clinton, the FCC has ordered that all tv sets with screens larger than 13 inches have V-chips installed. The administration has also been censoring away happily. Recently it was revealed that "drug czar" Barry McCaffery had been reviewing tv scripts to make sure they were carrying the appropriate "anti-drug" messages. The networks – greedy as ever for profits – had been sending scripts over to his office so as to avoid having to run public interest ads from which they stand to make less money than from the usual variety.

Clinton has also presided over the militarization of the police force. The federal "Posse Comitatus Act" unequivocally forbids the use of the military in law enforcement. Yet the Delta Force was involved at Waco. The Clinton administration goes in for the idea of "warrantless searches." In 1994 Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick explained to a bemused House Select Committee that a president "has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches for foreign intelligence purposes." Needless to say, there is nothing in the Constitution about this. Clinton has urged the passage of legislation that would give the FBI the power to install wiretaps without a court order. The extraordinary thing is that in today’s America judges do not have to be asked twice to issue search or wiretap warrants. Clinton was also the champion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which forced every telephone company in America to overhaul their networks to make them wiretap-friendly.

The Clinton Justice Department has also demanded the right to practice double jeopardy. Several years ago a young man, Vernon Watts, was tried and convicted of drug offenses. Though he had a gun in his apartment, the jury acquitted him of "using a firearm" during the drug offense. Yet he was sentenced as if he had used guns. Watts appealed, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the sentence. "[A] sentencing judge may not...rely upon facts of which the defendant was acquitted," it ruled. Clinton appealed to the Supreme Court to get the original sentence reinstated. One can see why. Prosecutors who fail to get a conviction on one set of charges can reintroduce them at a later stage to get a conviction without bothering with a jury.

Read George Szamuely's Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Law as Ordered

What Threat?

Peculiar Yet Brave

Closed to Debate

Arrogance of Power

Prison Love

Gore's Oil

Rough Justice

Race Race

Al the Coward

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be Un-American

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

If Special Prosecutor Robert Ray does indict Bill Clinton after he leaves office, the former president may yet come to regret his strange pathological enthusiasm for unrestrained law enforcement.

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