Libertas Institute Op-Eds

Police shootings must be addressed to restore public trust

December 2, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

Last weekend, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed an alarming data point: In recent years, police officers have killed more Utahns than have gang members. As a community we must ask ourselves: Is this an appropriate use of force?

There have been 13 fatalities so far this year from police shootings. It may very well be that officers had to use lethal force in each of these cases, but suppose for a moment that even one of these cases involved an unnecessary escalation of force — even if ultimately deemed justified by a district attorney.

That single instance should invite a frank and sincere dialogue about the entire law enforcement system: the legal authority officers are granted, training they receive, weapons they use, reporting required of them, accountability mechanisms when they run afoul of the law and the methods and makeup of investigative bodies.

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Good Landlord Programs are Not Entirely Good

October 3, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

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

Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs used the coercive arm of the state to expel an unwelcome segment of society in 1838 using an “extermination order.” (In that era, extermination meant to drive something from within certain borders — in other words, expulsion.) Members of the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were forced to migrate elsewhere, ultimately settling in Utah. Now, lawmakers in Utah have implemented policies that similarly expel unwanted citizens from their communities.

These innocently named “Good Landlord Programs” are a discriminatory restriction on people with past criminal convictions (some of whom may have in fact been innocent). Almost all programs in Utah cities — with a couple of notable exceptions — actually require participating landlords to refuse to rent their residential properties to individuals convicted of a felony within the past four years.

Proponents of the programs characterize them as a purely voluntary way for landlords to, as Salt Lake City argues, “help eliminate code violations and public nuisances while controlling and preventing illegal activity on rental properties that impact the quality of life within our neighborhoods.”

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New Lawsuit Holds the School Board Accountable

August 11, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  One comment

The following op-ed, written by Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Daily Herald.

Earlier this month, Libertas Institute announced a new lawsuit against Common Core here in Utah. There are six plaintiffs: two teachers, two parents of school aged children, and two school board members. None of them were consulted prior to adopting the Common Core standards in our state.

That may sound a bit silly — who are they to think they should have been consulted? As it turns out, state law requires it; § 53A-1-402.6 of the Utah code requires the Utah State Board of Education to establish and implement standards “in consultation with local school boards, school superintendents, teachers, employers, and parents.” The point of this law is to ensure local control and buy-in of whatever standards the Board adopts.

That didn’t happen with Common Core — and it should have. Here’s what actually happened.

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New Common Core Lawsuit Fights for Local Control

August 4, 2014  |  Posted in: Op-Eds  |  No comments

The following op-ed, written by Connor Boyack, was published this weekend in the Deseret News.

Two weeks ago, Governor Herbert held a press conference to announce that he’s “listening” to Common Core critics and that he has asked the Attorney General to conduct a “thorough legal review” of these untested, yet quickly adopted, education standards.

Whether or not the Governor is seriously concerned about Common Core’s legal implications—given re-election pressures, it’s reasonable to suggest his inquiry may be more superficial than substantive—he’s right to seek a review. Libertas Institute has identified numerous violations of the law in an investigation ongoing since January.

Unfortunately, Herbert and others are primarily focused on the “federal entanglement” as a result of the strings attached to federal grants sought out and obtained by the Utah State Board of Education. This is too narrow a focus for reviewing the full legal landscape of Common Core. Other issues exist and serve as the basis for a lawsuit we have organized.

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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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