Friday, November 21, 2008

Eric Holder Frightens Civil Libertarians

Attorney General designate, Eric Holder, sends a cold chill up the spines of many civil libertarians and those that value separation of church state with a history of disturbing statements and pandering to religious right organizations such as Morality In Media. Indeed, civil libertarians are very disappointed in this choice to be next Attorney General of the United States.

While 57 year old attorney, Eric Holder, is expected to strongly enforce civil rights laws and to be tough on white collar crime, especially among Wall Street firms that helped to drive their up own companies financial problems while they pulled down salaries that reached into the heavens with multimillion dollar salaries, Holder's past statements and actions in regards to civil liberties only frighten civil libertarians.

The subject of freedom of speech on the Internet is an important issue to civil libertarians, yet in 1998 Holder issued a statement know as the "Holder Memo" which supported more government intervention into policing free speech on the Internet. Holder wrote,"Because of the nature of the Internet and availability of agents trained in conducting criminal investigations in cyberspace, investigation and prosecution of Intenet obscenity is particularly suitable to federal resources". This presents a chilling image of a Washington bureaucrat who doesn't view the Internet as a worldwide entity where a number of U.S. states as well as nations do not even recognize obscenity as crime, let alone a high priority to devote for federal resources.

Holder has also pandered to outrageous religious right organization, Morality In Media, in a disturbing 1998 letter in which Holder wrote, "I appreciated having the opportunity to meet with you recently to discuss the prosecution of obscenity cases". Led by religious right extremist, Robert Peters, this wacky religious right organization has even attacked store displays of popular magazines such COSMOPOLITAN and has badgered major supermarkets such as Kroger to stop selling or else cover up popular women's magazines or supermarket tabloids. And this same small group of religious screwballs regularly attacks shock jock radio and other shows with letter writing campaigns or endless exaggerated FCC complaints. The group even sent a screwball letter to President-Elect Obama claiming that vigorous prosecution of obscenity is needed because of things such as "sex with excrement", although the organization failed to prove that even one American website even features this sort of bizarre content. Like much of the propaganda from Morality In Media, it is likely another outright outrageous lie meant to pressure politicians in supporting the organization's screwball political agenda. The Bush Administration even blurred the line between separation of church and state by putting a retired police detective from Morality In Media on the government payroll to surf the Internet looking for offensive websites to possibly target for an obscenity prosecution.

The real problem with any obscenity prosecution is that the strict wording the 1st Amendment doesn't seem to support any role of government in regulation of speech for political, religious or even offensiveness reasons. And even after the controversial 1973 Supreme Court case that allowed for "local communities" to have power to regulate free speech, which a minority on the Supreme Court still believes is an unconstitutional standard, the federal government and some states as well have set up some obscenity laws, often even going as far to absurdly make offensive speech a felony or even a racketeering offense in some cases.

The real problem with federal prosecutions of obscene speech on the Internet is that since the Internet is a worldwide commodity, it becomes an example of one branch of government attempting to regulate what the rest of the world community may view even if the material is completely legal in most of those communities. Further, since a number of states don't even have any obscenity laws or don't enforce the laws on the books, the federal government must find a conservative community, often in the South, and attempt to build a federal obscenity case by claiming that some local ordinance was violated in some conservative Southern jurisdiction. This is an absurd legal standard, as all material available on the Internet is considered to be constitutionally protected free speech until some local community has a trial with a judge and jury to claim the content exceeded local community standards, then the individual, corporation or website is somehow guilty of a federal obscenity offense.

But what is so disturbing about Holder was that he supported multijurisdiction prosecutions of Internet websites and businesses on federal obscenity charges where material that may be completely legal has to be defended in courtroom after courtroom, community after community, just to drain a company's assets with legal bills and bankrupt completely legal businesses with up to millions of dollars in lawyer's fees by using endless amounts of taxpayer dollars for endless prosecutions. It is an outrageous form of dirty prosecution tactics to bankrupt controversial free speech even if they win every case in every courtroom and prove their material to not violate the community standard in every courtroom. And Holder not only supports the prosecution of major sellers but also smaller businesses as well, which will often unfortunately plead guilty to obscenity charges that they might not be guilty of simply because they lack the assets to defend themselves.

In Florida, a few years ago a small African-American owned record store had to spend vast amounts of money to successfully defend itself from obscenity charges for offering for sale a copy of a Two Live Crew rap album. Small businesses like this might win their case against obscenity charges, but are bankrupted by the legal costs. And if the business loses, then they face government seizure of the business, possible loss of their home and other property, bank accounts and huge fines and prison time and sometimes being branded for life as a convicted "racketeer. Racist Senator Jesse Helms added obscenity to the list of racketeering offenses in his late days in the Senate and elderly racist Strom Thurmond helped to write many of the federal obscenity laws. These two socially backward Southern racists are most responsible for some of the worst of federal obscenity laws that have often spurred racially motivated obscenity cases in Southern courtrooms. It is nothing short of laws being far worse than any tasteless or offensive form of free expression by far.

Jewish American comic Lenny Bruce was once targeted several times in court in New York with obscenity prosecutions, and these legal problems led to his suicide. Today, his same sort of comedy is common place on cable TV and in nightclubs. The City of New York made a posthumous apology to Lenny Bruce a few years ago for their zeal in driving him to his death. The problem is that standards for what constitutes obscenity changes over time. What might be considered a crime at one time, isn't a little later. And other "crimes" are not built on a matter of personal taste or opinion like obscenity prosecutions are. Murder is always murder, theft is always theft, but obscenity is not always a crime in every community or over time as public taste changes. Obscenity prosecution is an outrageous standard to base law on. There is no clear cut set of laws written anywhere what may or may not be considered obscenity and in every community. A Gay adult film might be considered legally acceptable in San Francisco or most big city communities, but in a conservative Bible Belt courtroom in Mississippi, be considered a crime there. There is also no indication that George Washington and the other founding fathers intended that each individual local community should be allowed to establish laws to regulate speech locally. The Supreme Court in 1973 recognized that the strict wording of the 1st Amendment doesn't leave any room for federal government to regulate speech, so let local communities do that instead, which is absurd, but then even allowed the federal government to act as well. It is clearly an unconstitutional standard for regulation of free speech.

Holder is a very disappointing choice for Attorney General. He just doesn't seem to share any modern sense that the worldwide nature of the Internet should not be subject to local community laws. And the notion of judge shopping, courtroom shopping, to find the most conservative possible community in some Southern jurisdiction in a Bible Belt community to decide what persons in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco may view is outrageous. Holder just doesn't seem to value the separation of church and state any higher than the current religious right wackos who are plentiful in the Bush Justice Department is appalling. The religious right has used the Bush Justice Department to advance it's radical social and cultural agenda, and Eric Holder holds little promise of reversing this abuse of government power and spending of taxpayer money to advance a religious agenda.

Civil liberties supporters have every right to be very disappointed in this awful choice for Attorney General. Government has no legitimate role in using taxpayer dollars to promote a religious agenda. And most existing obscenity laws that involve the distribution of sometimes outrageous material between consenting adults is clearly unconstitutional and often just an attempt by religion to enforce their views of culture on the society at large. And ironically, Blacks, Gays, Jews and other groups have often been disportionately made the subject of obscenity cases when comics, rap albums, or others have been hauled into court to defend themselves from serious obscenity charges that may be construed as a "crime" in one conservative community, but not even considered a crime almost everywhere else. It is a shame that Eric Holder doesn't seem to see this historic racist application of law here. Eric Holder just doesn't get it. Unless Eric Holder has proven substantial change since his backward thinking views from 1998, then he should not become the next U.S. Attorney General.


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