Category Archives: Civil Liberties

On the Legality of Mandatory Vaccinations Rules for Highly Communicable Diseases

I presume it’s a no-brainer in most states that if a private employer wants to require that employees be vaccinated or wear masks on the jobs then the employer can do this unless the employee has a legitimate medical reason not to, in which case there would be an ADA issue. If the objection is religious (e.g. Christian Scientists), there would be a claim for a reasonable accommodation if one can be arranged.

But what if it’s the government making the order? Leaving aside for a minute the issue of the policy wisdom of a governmental mandatory vaccine order, does the Constitution permit the government, state or federal, to require obedience to a state’s duly promulgated mandatory vaccination rule, assuming the rule has exceptions for medical and religious reasons?

Comes now the 7th Circuit, in a 3-0  opinion written by no less than Judge Easterbrook, to say in Klaassen v. Trustees of Indiana Univ. that this is not a hard case at all:

Given Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), which holds that a state may require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox, there can’t be a constitutional problem with vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. Plaintiffs assert that the rational-basis standard used in Jacobson does not offer enough protection for their interests and that courts should not be as deferential to the decisions of public bodies as Jacobson was, but a court of appeals must apply the law established by the Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs invoke substantive due process. Under Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), and other decisions, such an argument depends on the existence of a fundamental right ingrained in the American legal tradition. Yet Jacobson, which sustained a criminal conviction for refusing to be vaccinated, shows that plaintiffs lack such a right. To the contrary, vaccination requirements, like other public-health measures, have been common in this nation.

Again, wisdom and legality are not the same thing, but as far as legality is concerned this is I think absolutely correct on the law as it relates to mandatory vaccination rules. 

I would venture to guess that the federal government could justify a similar rule under the commerce power. I would also venture to guess that the extension of the vaccination rule to a state (or federal) masking rule for the duration of an epidemic would not be very difficult.

Posted in Civil Liberties, COVID-19, Law: Constitutional Law | 5 Comments

Dystopian Fiction in Everyday Life

The Tampa Bay Times has the scoop on a new surveillance plan in Pasco County, Florida.  The Sheriff’s Department there is targeting people for enhanced police scrutiny based on what it claims is an “unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community.”

“As a result of this designation,” the Sheriff’s office warns targeted residents, “we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.”

Naturally, there’s a federal lawsuit.

Indeed, last year, the paper reports, “a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the Sheriff’s Office creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The agency sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest.”  In addition, there’s “a separate program that uses schoolchildren’s grades, attendance records and abuse histories to label them potential future criminals.”

To rub salt in the wound, the Sheriff’s Office has a video telling the program’s victims of increased harassment that inclusion is “good news” because it will give them opportunities to receive “assistance”. A hint of what that looks like comes in its letter to the surveilled, which warns, “Our desire to help you will not hinder us from holding you fully accountable for your choices and actions,” and promises that recipients’ names and criminal histories with get sent to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure “the highest level of accountability” for any future crimes they commit.

Spotted via Crooks & Liars’s Susie Madrak, Dept. Of Pre-Crime: Florida Sheriff Harassing Pre-Criminals — What could possibly go wrong, other than civil rights violations?. Photo Licensed via Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Fabius Maximus Blog

Posted in Law: Criminal Law, Law: Privacy, Surveillance | 5 Comments

A Hideous Proposal to Use No Fly Lists to Ban Alleged Insurrectionists

I hope they throw the book at all the people who we think stormed the Capitol. And the people who egged them on. And I hope they get fair trials.

But not this: Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called for federal law enforcement to add participants from last week’s riot in the U.S. Capitol to the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list.

Do I have to explain how bad this is? No trials. No due process. Restrictions on freedom of movement on bare allegations. To the extent we limit it — this time — to persons believed engaged in armed trespass, or even just trespass to the Capitol, that’s different from making it purely political. But it’s moving in that direction. And, recall, that even insurrectionists are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The right to travel should not be infringed because someone somewhere who is not accountable puts you on some list that is next to impossible to get off. That applies to all citizens and permanent residents, whether the list-maker thinks you are someone who makes suspicious visits to Muslim-majority countries, whether you are accused but not convicted of a crime, or because they just don’t like you.

I would be OK with a travel restriction (‘don’t go near DC’) for out-of-towners as a condition of their bail after they were arrested and indicted. That’s done by a judge or magistrate, it’s public, and it’s publicly appealable. The no-fly-list is none of those things; there is an appeal process of sorts, but it’s totally opaque.

Update:
Retired firefighter, comedian and Chuck Norris falsely accused of being Capitol rioters — this is why we have trials.

Posted in 1/6, Civil Liberties, Law: Right to Travel | Leave a comment

Florida Finds Lawsuits It Likes

Florida is notorious for reducing the ability of citizens to complain about governmental actions.  The Florida Administrative Procedure Act deviates in many ways from its federal counterpart and many of those deviations are designed to make it difficult — or impossible — for citizens to object to regulations or other government actions.  Tort law too is heavily constrained, so businesses and rich people and insurance companies don’t need to worry as much about lawsuits either.

Well, Florida has finally found a species of citizen suit it likes.  As part of Governor DeSantis’s opportunistic revival of his anti-BLM-demonstration bill, resurrected in light of the sacking of the US Capitol, the Governor proposes to let anyone complain to hm if a locality has the temerity to cut a police budget:

The 51-page bill would also take an aggressive approach to budgeting of local police departments. Under the initial language, a local government that cuts its police budget could be subject to an appeal by any person. That appeal would be subject to a budget hearing held by the governor’s office, and later a ruling by a separate commission that includes the governor. If that commission decides police cuts were unneeded, they could restore the funding and the decision would be final.

But that’s not all! While it remains hard for citizens to get recompense if shot by police, the governor thinks we should give localities a financial incentive to make the police even more trigger happy at demonstrations:

Beyond budgeting, the proposals would also make it easier to sue government bodies, which generally share wide-ranging lawsuit protections known as sovereign immunity. Those protections would be lifted and governments could be sued under the bill for “damages caused during a riot,” or if a government is found to interfere with “reasonable law enforcement action” during a riot.”

Leaving aside that this is only the latest example of the Florida state government’s callous disregard for the civil rights of Floridians (and especially the minorities disproportionately likely to be victims of police violence), and ignoring the assault on the power of localities to spend their own money and make their own rules, this naked pandering to police and reflexive law-and-order voters flies in the face of evidence that crime is down ….

and police spending is only going up and up….

Posted in Civil Liberties, Florida | Leave a comment

It’s Come to This

I find this latest video, “Our Fight,” from the Lincoln Project very upsetting. It’s upsetting not because it’s inaccurate, but because it’s actually necessary.

Posted in 2020 Election, Civil Liberties, Politics: Tinfoil | Leave a comment

“Sort of hilariously unconstitutional”? I’m not laughing.

Another step down the path to fascism with an American accent.

According to ProPublica (and many other news sources):

Federal authorities are using a new tactic in their battle against protesters in Portland, Oregon: arrest them on offenses as minor as “failing to obey” an order to get off a sidewalk on federal property — and then tell them they can’t protest anymore as a condition for release from jail.

Legal experts describe the move as a blatant violation of the constitutional right to free assembly, but at least 12 protesters arrested in recent weeks have been specifically barred from attending protests or demonstrations as they await trials on federal misdemeanor charges.

“Defendant may not attend any other protests, rallies, assemblies or public gathering in the state of Oregon,” states one “Order Setting Conditions of Release” for an accused protester, alongside other conditions such as appearing for court dates. The orders are signed by federal magistrate judges.

For other defendants, the restricted area is limited to Portland, where clashes between protesters and federal troops have grown increasingly violent in recent weeks. In at least two cases, there are no geographic restrictions; one release document instructs, “Do not participate in any protests, demonstrations, rallies, assemblies while this case is pending.”

ProPublica identified several instances in which the protest ban was added to the conditions of release document when it was drafted, before it was given to the judge. It remained unclear whether the limits on protesting were initiated by Justice Department officials or the magistrates hearing the cases.

The ACLU’s Somil Trivedi said, “Release conditions should be related to public safety or flight” — in other words, the risk that the defendant will abscond. “This is neither.” He described the handwritten addition of a protest ban to a release document as “sort of hilariously unconstitutional.”

I’m not laughing. The shocking part here is not that some unknown party in the government asked for this — although they ought to know better — but that a federal judge, even if it was ‘just’ a Magistrate, signed off on this.

UPDATE (6/30): Good news/bad news: The good news is that the unconstitutional no-protest condition has been dropped in all cases. Bad news: the source of the condition was two federal Magistrates themselves. Ouch.

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment