September 17, 2007
Welcome ACLU, WaPo to the party
Posted by: Chris
I'm happy to report that both the ACLU and the Washington Post have joined a growing chorus of voices asking questions about the Larry Craig arrest. The ACLU has filed a brief on the conservative senator's behalf -- and they say politics makes strange bedfellows -- arguing pretty much what I've been saying in this space since the night the scandal broke:
Solicitation for private sex, the ACLU argues, is protected speech under the First Amendment no matter where it occurs. … In its brief, the ACLU argues that the government can arrest people for soliciting public sex only if it can show beyond doubt that the sex was to occur in public.
That second sentence is key. There's been rampant speculation, including by me, over whether Craig was there to solicit public sex or private sex, and the speculation only proves the point: There's no way the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a few hand and foot signals indicated one or the other.
The prosecutors no doubt know this, so the charges are "disorderly conduct," an entirely too vague and subjective offense that they know most of those busted won't challenge because, like Craig, they just want it to go away. Whatever your sympathy level for Craig, and I have some in reserves, it's an abuse of government power to bully people into accepting an unconstitutional arrest based on their own self-loathing or lack of fortitude to escape from the closet.
I've read an enormous amount of hostile crap from the likes of Dan Savage, Michelangelo Signorile and Mike Rogers who have succeeded in politicizing sex to a degree our conservative opponents wouldn't dream. Thank God for the ACLU, which remembers that even unsympathetic individuals deserve to have their civil liberties respected:
"Senator Craig has not always been a great friend of civil liberties, but you shouldn’t have to endorse the civil liberties of others to keep your own," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU [who is openly gay, adds CC]. "Government should make public restrooms safe for all, but it should do so in a manner that is really designed to stop inappropriate behavior, rather than destroying the lives of people who might have no intention of doing anything illegal."
A Washington Post editorial this weekend wasn't quite so solicitous (pun intended) because it suggests the Minneapolis court should reject Craig's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea. I understand the sentiment, since he certainly made as well-informed lay decision as anyone could under the circumstances, considering he's been writing laws for almost two decades.
But with so much public attention on his case, I wouldn't mind seeing him succeed withdrawing so he could challenge the constitutionality of his arrest, which WaPo agrees was over the line:
Mr. Craig should have been able to beat the charges because none of the gestures, in and of themselves, constitutes a crime. And Mr. Craig, even by the officer's account, did not expose himself or commit any other act that would have breached the law. …
It seems clear that he pleaded guilty because his priority was not exoneration but avoiding exposure. What's troubling is that the sting operation may have been counting on just that sort of motivation in order to extract guilty pleas from men who, in fact, had done nothing explicitly lewd or illegal.
For a complete news summary of the Larry Craig scandal, click or bookmark: http://gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig
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