Category Archives: Law

What Part of Your Oath Do You Not Understand?

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to something something anymore!

It all started with Wil Wheaton1, who used to be the bartender (I believe) on “Star Trek”, but who is now some sort of Twitter celebrity. I myself have zero tolerance for Twitter celebrities, but one of the “data scientists” I follow “retweeted” the following into my newshose:

The SOPA/NDAA, in case you have more important things to do than follow politics, is the latest power grab by the content industries, and would allow the President to use unmanned drones to assassinate you and/or the Internet without a trial if he suspects you’re selling counterfeit handbags or illegally downloading Hall & Oates MP3s or waging jihad. It is indeed an abomination, which is why it is only supported by heartless, baby-killing monsters like record company executives and United States Senators. And it certainly seems plausible that a President who signed such a bill would be in violation of his oath to “defend the Constitution.”

You know what else is in violation of his oath to defend the Constitution? JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING HE’S EVER DONE. Invade Libya without declaring war? NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION. Illegally traffic guns to criminals in order to drum up popular support for eviscerating the Second Amendment? NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION. Override state medical marijuana laws? NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION. Force people to buy private health insurance? NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION. And so on. If it takes the NDAA to get you to care about Obama’s oath to defend the Constitution, then either you’ve been living in a cave in Pakistan for the past 3 years, or YOU DON’T ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION.

As it happens, I’m not one of those libertarian types who pounds the table about what is and what isn’t in the Constitution. Of course I’d rather the government lived up to its promises not to quarter soldiers in my condo, not to take away my guns, and not to censor my XXXXXXXXXXX. But they don’t, and no one seems to care that they don’t, and in fact most people are quite happy to let the government quarter soldiers in their condos as long as it gets them something they want, like endless war in Afghanistan, or patents on being aware of medical best practices, or subsidized pharmaceuticals for wealthy old people. In any event, I don’t treat the Constitution as holy writ, or think something is necessarily a good idea because it’s in the Constitution or necessarily a bad idea because it’s not, or consider it a good use of anyone’s time to yell “READ THE CONSTITUTION!” to people who don’t particular care about what’s in the Constitution.

But I will pound the table when some Obama-endorsing, juvenile-name-calling Twitter celebrity suddenly starts chastising people as if in this one case the Constitution is the most important thing in the world. You don’t get to do that. If you didn’t care about the Constitution back when activist judges insisted that deep in its penumbrae one could divine secret rights to funnel taxpayer money to politically-connected banks and carbuilding unions, then no one is going to take you seriously when you pretend to care about it now. Oh, they’ll pretend to care about your pretending, and maybe they’ll even mention to their friends that “that bartender from the Starship Enterprise had some great tweet where he pretended like he cares about the Constitution, and he used #hashtags and everything, and it was really such a stellar example of pretending to care about the Constitution that I favorited it and retweeted it and @replied to it, so you should check it out!” But they know that you’re posturing and that you know perfectly well that the President and the Congress perfectly well understand their oath to “uphold the Constitution”, they JUST DON’T GIVE A RAT’S ASS ABOUT IT, and they also know that 364 days out of the year NEITHER DO YOU.

What’s extra-sad is that this guy had a particularly unpleasant run-in with the TSA last spring:

You’d think that might have indicated to him that the “teabaggers'” fear of government power was maybe not so off-base after all. The bartenders at the places I hang out certainly would have noticed this, so maybe it’s that all the cosmic rays in space kill brain cells.

All that said, the NDAA and SOPA are both horrible laws and we’re worse as a society for passing them (or for being about to pass them) and the people defending them are heartless, baby-killing monsters who you should probably go out of your way to spit on if you encounter them. But they’re also perfectly predictable consequences of having the kind of busybody government that you’ve been loudly clamoring for your whole life. It wasn’t so long ago that you were blogging a stupid “CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN” graphic and telling people to vote for this jerk. To the extent you care about preventing the next SOPA, you might consider next time listening to the libertarians instead of just calling them vulgar names and putting sugar in their gas tanks.

1. Technically, it started when I read the article about Sheila Jackson-Lee stopping a SOPA hearing so they could discuss whether someone had insulted her on Twitter, and I realized that I was the one with the “crazy” politics for not being eager to subject myself to thousands of pages of laws written by emotional preschoolers.

Equal Protection, Sex with Teachers, and Student-Athletes

Call me an old softie, but it always bugs me when different laws apply to different people. For instance, during the most recent student-teacher-sex-scandal I learned the following:

While the age of consent for a sexual relationship in Washington state is 16, it is criminal for a teacher or anyone else in a position of power to have sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18.

Now, despite some titillating … um … videos I might have seen, I can understand the arguments why you don’t want teachers having sex with students. For instance, it’s a big distraction from the school’s goals, like not teaching math, not teaching reading, and planning periods. It’s also a big distraction from the students’ goals, like trying to have sex.

Nonetheless, if the students are otherwise old enough to consent, this is an argument for firing said teachers, or possibly even for not hiring them in the first place. It’s not a particularly compelling argument for making them subject to a different age of consent than everyone else, which (if you think about it) means that a teacher could conceivably go to prison for the same actions that her non-teaching neighbor could perform quite legally.

Admittedly, as injustices go, this is a pretty small one, and anyway I’m sure if I thought about it I could find some way to blame it on the teachers’ unions, who I imagine would be reluctant to endorse my “fire teachers who break the rules” program.

I was thinking about all this when I read an article about the “problem” of sports agents trying to influence college athletes:

In January, Illinois will become the 39th state to adopt the Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which calls for stiff penalties for anyone who passes himself off as a representative without a state license or for anyone who pays a college athlete with eligibility remaining. Since California, Michigan and Ohio already have their own non-UAAA laws, that leaves only eight states (Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Virginia) that don’t regulate agents

The penalties for “sports-agenting without a license” I at least understand, being familiar with analogues in the taxi industry, the hairbraiding industry, the eyebrow-threading industry, the florist industry, the interior-design industry, the moving industry, and the healthcare industry.

The other is pretty impressive, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a very selective law. I can legally give money to college students who aren’t athletes. I can legally give money to college athletes whose eligibility to play sports has expired. I can legally give money to college-aged athletes who aren’t college students. But the instant I give money to someone who’s a college athlete with eligibility remaining, I’m a criminal.

More disturbingly, college eligibility is determined solely by the rules of the NCAA, which is (last time I checked) a private organization. Private organizations are, of course, welcome to punish their members, although usually not with prison time. Obviously, the NCAA has no jurisdiction to punish me, seeing as how I’m not a college student. So basically they’ve convinced 39 (and counting) state legislatures to pass laws ensuring that — even though I have no association with their organization other than through the video game “NCAA Football 11″ — I can go to prison if I violate their privately-chosen rules.

Several sports-columnists seem to be applauding this state of affairs, although I’m sort of dreading the moment when all the other private organizations start realizing they can get their private rules written into law. The day when the American Mathematical Society’s proscription on Proof by Contradiction becomes a felony will be an especially bad one for me.