This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
May 18th, 2010
It is not often that I complain about a Supreme Court decision in which Justices Scalia and Thomas are the sole objectors. These men are not ones whom I consider to be the greatest defenders of civil liberties.
But one such decision was announced this week (NY Times)
In a broad endorsement of federal power, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Congress has the authority under the Constitution to allow the continued civil commitment of sex offenders after they have completed their criminal sentences.
The federal law at issue in the case allows the government to continue to detain prisoners who had engaged in sexually violent conduct, suffered from mental illness and would have difficulty controlling themselves. If the government is able to prove all of this to a judge by “clear and convincing” evidence — a heightened standard, but short of “beyond a reasonable doubt” — it may hold such prisoners until they are no longer dangerous or a state assumes responsibility for them.
These individuals are not being “punished” but rather incarcerated for the greater good. And I tend to view “greater good” decisions from the perspective of a member of a minority community who has been seen to be so threatening that persecution, incarceration, aversion therapy, and even lobotomies were justified by the greater good.
The hardened criminal in this case, U.S. v. Comstock, is Graydon Comstock, a threat to society who is so frightening that the Federal Government is certain that he will commit his crime again if he is not held against his will. He will repeat his heinous actions, if not stopped!
Graydon Comstock was convicted of ‘receiving child pornography’ for which he was sentenced to 37 months. And to make certain that Comstock never ever ‘receives child pornography’ again, that sentencing has been extended to indefinite at the whim of the federal government.
Civil incarceration is not without precedent. States have long held that they have the right, even the obligation, to protect their citizens from those who cannot control their own behaviors. The federal role has traditionally been to ensure that states did not exceed their constitutional bounds, a role that now seems to be unfilled.
But frankly, I am troubled by the idea of incarcerating individuals for the crime of “being”, whether it is by state or federal government. I am somewhat solaced by the limitation of the law to those who are mentally incapacitated but I still remain discontented by this decision. It seems to me to have less to do with protecting society and more to do with the justification for the expansion of powers.
And I can’t help but wonder, if Comstock had not been convicted of receiving illegal images, would his danger to society be any different? Would he be any more or any less of a public threat?
Because if he was equally a threat, why then cannot the federal government just incarcerate for any length of time any person who it deems threatening for any reason? Oh, provided of course that a judge signs off.
And if this illegal action is what makes his such a threat, why then was can the judgment of the judge and jury be so easily dismissed? They decided on 3 years, while the feds want him incarcerated for life. But why is the determination of a warden of more importance than that of a jury of one’s peers?
I want my community protected. I don’t want predators roaming the streets. And I’m not some bleeding heart who feels pity for the ‘sad circumstances’ of the beasts who prey on the weak.
I’m not even much inclined to fret about slippery slopes.
But I’m made uneasy by the idea that incarceration for a sentence of time to receive punishment for a crime committed cannot be doled out without a right to a trial, evidence, and the decision of peers, while indefinite incarceration for the vague accusation of being a “danger” can be done with nothing more than a bureaucrat’s decision and a compliant judge.
In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.
When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.
In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.
On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!
And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.
Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.
Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.
The FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.