February 16, 2016

ANTONIN SCALIA, CIVIL LIBERTARIAN: Defense attorney Harvey Silverglate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (but better known to InstaPundit readers as the co-founder of FIRE), writes a tribute to Justice Scalia’s war on vague criminal statutes:

Justice Scalia, more than any other member of the high court during his 30-year tenure, waged war with the government’s attempt to attack the liberty of citizens and others by brandishing laws that nobody really could comprehend. He understood, as few judges do, the extent of the day-to-day tyranny inflicted by any legal system where the laws are not clear as to what conduct can land a citizen in prison. In the 2011 Supreme Court case Sykes v. United States, Justice Scalia articulated this very concern. The majority determined that a particular crime – felony vehicle flight – constituted a “violent felony” under federal law; in practice, this ruling meant that the individual at the heart of the case was subject to a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.  Scalia dissented from the majority, arguing that the federal law in question was so vague in defining a “violent felony” that punishing Sykes under it was unconstitutional. He wrote, in part:

“We face a Congress that puts forth an ever-increasing volume of laws in general, and of criminal laws in particular. It should be no surprise that as the volume increases, so do the number of imprecise laws. And no surprise that our indulgence of imprecisions that violate the Constitution encourages imprecisions that violate the Constitution. Fuzzy, leave-the-details-to-be-sorted-out-by-the-courts legislation is attractive to the Congressman who wants credit for addressing a national problem but does not have the time (or perhaps the votes) to grapple with the nitty-gritty.”

Read the whole thing.

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