Will Pot + RICO Challenge State’s Federalist Trend?

Marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn., in 2015. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn., in 2015. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Writing in The Washington Post, legal commentator Jonathan H. Adler outlines both the context and challenges facing “legal” marijuana now that a law targeting gangsters is being used for civil resistance to state pot reforms. We’ve reported before that the federal 10th Circuit court has taken a stand and it’s significant.
Adler outlines the federal context, including how the U.S. Congress has linked marijuana to funding legislation, before going into the looming challenges.
He notes that “… a bigger potential threat [to state legalization efforts] comes from the fact that marijuana possession and distribution are predicate offenses under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This means that those who produce or sell marijuana are potentially subject to civil RICO suits, whether or not such activities are legal under state law. So held the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit earlier this year. A federal judge once described RICO as “the monster that ate jurisprudence.” Barring real reform at the federal level, it could be the monster that ate marijuana federalism, too. Here again, an appropriations rider is insufficient.

Adler is arguing that the RICO use is a threat to the “federalism” model for state control. 
Opinion | Will marijuana make federalism go up in smoke?

Will veto really ‘export foreign policy to trail lawyers?’

Congress voted Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill to give the families of 9/11 victims a chance to sue Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Congress voted Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill to give the families of 9/11 victims a chance to sue Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

As the U.S. Congress votes this week to override a presidential veto for the first time in President Obama’s tenure, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says the country is exporting its foreign policy to trail lawyers and warned that U.S. personnel might find themselves dragged into lawsuits abroad over American drone use in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or even its support for Israel.

At issue is a law that would allow victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia over any potential role in those attacks. The president and others say such a law would invite similar action against the United States. Sen. Corker is one of several members who argue the bill is so broad that it could expose the United States to retaliation in foreign courts.

The Washington Post says that the move is a “… a sign that Saudi Arabia’s fortunes are waning on Capitol Hill. The Saudi government has denied it had any ties to the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks and has lobbied fiercely against the bill. But victims’ families have pushed for the legislation so they can press their case in courts, and lawmakers who support the measure argue Saudi Arabia should not be concerned if it did nothing wrong.”

Also from the Post: “This is not a time when U.S.-Saudi relations have much popular support on either side,” said F. Gregory Gause, head of the international affairs department at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. Just as the Saudis think the administration has tilted too closely to Iran, he said, many U.S. politicians blame Saudi Arabia for the globe spread of Sunni extremism. “I think that’s really simplistic.”

Read the WaPo report here:
Congress overrides Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill

Congress’ Judiciary Committees Active On Civil Courts Issues

The congressional judiciary committees have been active in national civil justice issues, with the House Judiciary looking at “fairness in class actions” and the Senate Judiciary holding a hearing on civil asset forfeiture, which no doubt failed to entertain as much as HBO’s John Oliver did with his take-down of the issue.
One interesting note is that reformers are calling for “right to attorney” for people facing civil asset seizures, which can happen even if authorities never file criminal charges. The National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel explained it like this: “In response to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning relating to civil asset forfeiture reform, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (“a coalition of more than 200 national organizations”) issued a letter calling for, among other things, a right to counsel in all civil forfeiture proceedings.  Current federal forfeiture law provides a right to counsel only where the asset seized is the defendant’s primary residence.”
Rand Paul, U.S. Senator for Kentucky (official photo)

Rand Paul, U.S. Senator for Kentucky (official photo)

The website also noted that “… a number of people testifying at the hearing discussed the need for appointed counsel at these proceedings.  Sen. Rand Paul referred to his “Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act of 2014” that he introduced last year, which he said would provide counsel, and a representative from the Institute for Justice also called upon the provision of counsel to indigent defendants.”
On the House side, a bill under discussion would narrow who could directly participate in class action suits and require that “… only that a class be composed of members with “an injury of the same type and extent.” 
Read more on the Judiciary Committee website and the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) website.

US House Drops Border-Crisis Bill

BREAKING NEWS: The U.S. House of representatives has dropped a bill that would have provided some $659 million in funding to address the 60,000 unaccompanied children that have arrived on the southwest border. The Huffington Post noted that “… the bill had significant opposition from Democrats, but GOP leadership decided to add a separate vote, if the first were to pass, on a measure meant to bring on conservative support: ending a key Obama policy that allows undocumented young people in the U.S. for years to remain in the country. 

Citing other reports, HuffPo says the GOP needed to get to 218 votes but managed only 214.

The HuffPo backgrounder graf is pretty good: “More than 57,500 unaccompanied children and teenagers have been apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally since October, overwhelming a system already plagued by backlogs and in need of significant resources. President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis, and Senate Democrats proposed a $2.7 billion package. House Republicans introduced a bill to approve just a fraction of that sum — with the possibility of appropriating more funds later — with conditions many Democrats oppose, such as changing a 2008 law so unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada can be deported more quickly and sending the National Guard to the border.” 

Read the report here: