Libertas Institute Op-Eds

Shurtleff raid further proof of over-militarization of police

June 30, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, co-authored with ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Laywers, was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The actions of law enforcement officers during their recent search of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s home have once again raised questions about the proper role of force in executing search warrants. Tremendous public discourse also followed the search of Matthew David Stewart’s home in January 2012 that resulted in the death of a police officer. These events are an opportunity for Utahns to rethink policies on the routine use of force by police, especially in light of recent research showing that more force leads to less safety.

Shurtleff understandably complained when law enforcement officers entered his home and allegedly pointed weapons at his 17-year old daughter, who was not threatening them. While Shurtleff’s complaints come a little late in light of his previous views and policies on the police use of force when he was Utah’s “top cop,” we should still listen. It remains to be seen whether authorities violated the Constitution in their actions at Shurtleff’s home. Their actions, however, were in line with current law enforcement policies and practices, under which officers serving search warrants employ extremely forceful tactics at homes, such as breaking down doors, setting off “flash bang” grenades, displaying weapons and commanding occupants to submit to authority. These tactics are not only used in emergency situations, like hostage taking. In fact, they are more typically used during investigations of nonviolent crimes, such as drug offenses (and apparently, official misconduct). Such policies and practices are not unique to Utah. The ACLU recently released a report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Police,” that documents this increased use of force across the United States.

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The Importance of Paying Attention

March 31, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

This well-known saying comes from Gideon J. Tucker, a lawyer and legislator who in 1866 presided as a judge over a lawsuit against a deceased man’s estate. The legal battle, said Tucker, ”arose from want of diligent watchfulness in respect to legislative changes.” In other words, somebody had violated the law because they didn’t realize that the law had recently changed.

Tucker’s point becomes especially emphatic when changes to the law are made quickly, with no public discussion or recognition that it’s even happening. If our liberty is jeopardized by transparent government activity, it’s far more threatened by subversive attempts to undermine our rights. This was the case in Utah just last year.

After a citizen initiative in 2000 to strengthen property rights by restricting civil asset forfeiture — the ability of police officers to seize property without charging its owner with a crime — forfeiture law remained unchanged (save for some hotly contested tweaks in 2004) until last year. Under John Swallow’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office pushed a bill in the 2013 general session that substantially amended forfeiture law and removed many of the property rights protections that had long been in place.

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Utah legislators stood up for Fourth Amendment

March 16, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

While the Utah legislature was divided this year when it came to issues such as air quality, same-sex marriage, Count My Vote, or education, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one place where legislators found common ground.

We live in an age when the principles this clause was intended to protect are under constant threat. For example, the many beneficial technological advances we enjoy often come at the expense of our privacy.  Additionally, the trend of militarizing police officers means that tactics and weapons designed for overseas combat are being deployed in our communities.

Four key pieces of legislation, each rooted in the Fourth Amendment, worked their way through both the Utah House and Senate with relative ease. Both of our organizations were involved in the drafting and promoting of these bills, and we strongly believe that once signed into law by the Governor, they will make Utah a better state.

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Anti-discrimination proposal violates property rights

February 10, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.

According to a unanimous decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court, the suppression of one’s moral convictions and the denial of one’s property rights has become the “price of citizenship.” The court’s opinion stemmed from a lawsuit against a photography studio whose owners declined to offer their services to a homosexual couple. Citing their religious convictions as a basis for their choice, they were soon faced with a legal battle over their discriminatory decision.

This is part of a larger trend nationwide. A Vermont country inn was fined $30,000 because one of its employees turned away a gay couple seeking to hold their wedding reception at the facility based on the owner’s religious convictions. In Colorado, a judgeupheld a gay couple’s lawsuit against a bakery for not offering them a wedding cake. A florist in Washington was likewise sued for her refusal to offer her services in support of a same-sex ceremony. We can expect more legal battles along these lines in the future, including here in Utah.

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Why Utah Should Allow Recall Elections

January 27, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed written by our policy analyst, Josh Daniels, was published in today’s Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah needs a recall election system. Governments “of the people” must have sufficient means for citizen oversight, and recall elections help ensure that government does not stray too far from the people.

Rep. Gage Froerer is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 4 in the current legislative session. If adopted, and if successful when placed on the ballot, the Utah Constitution would be amended to allow for the recall of the governor, state auditor, state treasurer and attorney general. This is a step in the right direction. However, in keeping with the proverb “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” it would be improved by including legislators on the list of elected officials subject to recall.

Of the 20 states with recall provisions for state officials, all but two — Illinois and Rhode Island — include state legislators. Utah should join the trend and create this ability for citizens to better hold elected officials accountable.

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Selling Our Birthright for a Mess of Pottage

December 12, 2013  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following op-ed by our president Connor Boyack was published in today’s Standard Examiner.

If you remember your Bible stories, you’ll recall Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. By being born first, Esau was the legal heir to the birthright, set to preside over the family and receive a double inheritance from his father. Surprisingly, he exchanged this prized status for a mess of pottage—giving up something profoundly important to satisfy a momentary desire.

Of course, the fulfillment of a fleeting need for food was temporary, and Esau would once again be hungry at a later time. Perhaps for this reason—by abandoning his birthright in favor of something so ephemeral—we read that Esau “despised his birthright,” obviously placing little value on it.

Many politicians follow in Esau’s footsteps.

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No caucus means fly-over counties

October 11, 2013  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following is our op-ed published in today’s Deseret News.

For years, former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt led a failed effort to create a presidential primary in the West, hoping to remedy the longstanding concern that Utah and other surrounding states are “fly-over states,” meaning that candidates don’t spend much time or attention here. Now, Leavitt and his like-minded associates are promoting an effort to create this same problem in Utah.

The “Count My Vote” initiative—a proposal to dismantle Utah’s hybrid caucus/convention and primary system and move to primaries alone—would disenfranchise rural counties with sparse populations around the state, thus creating “fly-over counties” that would fail to attract candidates for state-wide office during a primary or general election.

In promoting his presidential primary, Leavitt’s goal was to “be better able to attract presidential candidates to discuss the region’s issues.” The concern was then, as it is now, that presidential candidates see little value in spending their time and attention on a state that will assuredly vote Republican and has few delegates to sway a vote. “The voice of the West is going to be heard if only faintly” under the current system, Leavitt said.

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Time to Decriminalize Polygamy

September 23, 2013  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following is our op-ed published in this weekend’s Salt Lake Tribune.

On May 15, 1945, fifteen men in suits and ties gathered for a photo opportunity on the steps of the Utah State Prison as they began their indeterminate sentences of up to five years. The supposed crime for which they were being incarcerated was “unlawful cohabitation.”

Put differently, the freedom of fifteen men was severely restricted, with taxpayers footing the bill for their prosecution and incarceration, because the men had strayed outside society’s norm by consensually choosing to love, support, and live with more than one female companion and their subsequent children.

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State School Board Needs Election, Not Selection

September 18, 2013  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

Editor’s note: Libertas Institute invited former state school board candidates to support and co-sign the following letter that was published in today’s Deseret News.

Imagine running for public office, only to be told by the Governor that he didn’t want you to be on the ballot. Then imagine that the Governor actually had the power to make it happen.

This un-democratic mental exercise is a reality in Utah, and each of us have been in this position. As past candidates for the state school board, we were each denied ballot access by the Governor or his appointed agents without voters having a say.

Utah law allows a committee of 12 persons, appointed by the Governor, to screen candidates for the state school board and select at least three from each district they find best (for whatever reason) to submit to the Governor for consideration. Any candidate not chosen is unable to appeal to voters, and has effectively been weeded out of the electoral process.

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Compulsory education violates parental stewardship

September 3, 2013  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  2 comments

The following is our op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In an effort to tear down Sen. Aaron Osmond’s proposal regarding eliminating compulsory school-attendance laws in Utah, critics have produced a wide range of responses, absolutely none of which addresses the actual problem.

Utah law (62A-4a-201-1a) states that, “Under both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, a parent possesses a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children.” It also says that the state recognizes that parents have “the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority” to educate their children and that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.”

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