Docket #15-002: Shiny Happy Fun Time!

Patent and Trademark Office

Lovely building the PTO’s got there.

Amanda Knief, Managing Director of American Atheists, joins the podcast in her first episode as co-host. Amanda is a fellow lawyer, though not practicing at present, since her time is mostly spent managing a national non-profit organization. She’s the author of Citizen Lobbyist: A How-to Manual for Making Your Voice Heard in Government, worked as a lobbyist for the Secular Coalition in Washington, D.C., and served as legal counsel for the Iowa State Legislature. Finally, some credibility on this podcast!

On this week’s oh-so-uplifting docket: political corruption and the ongoing Rick Perry prosecution, the ACLU thinks the owner of the D.C. football team is an asshole but that’s his right, 47 U.S. Senators managed not to commit treason but did maybe kinda sorta break some other laws, and we discuss what it actually takes to prove that something is a hate crime.

Noteworthy links:

  • Paul Vinet

    So excited to have the new format of the show with Amanda as a cohost! Hopefully this is exactly what the show needed to really take off and establish itself in the podcast world. The topics and angles you guys cover absolutely warrants broader success.

    I just wanted to follow up on our original convo on the Rick Perry indictment re what was discussed during this episode. I fully understand what your perspective is on this oliver, especially now after this episode.

    What I thought was especially interesting was the discussion on vagueness and over-broadness. To echo Amanda’s point: it seems like it’s the exact opposite of these two things in the law which is providing Perry the legal legs he is standing on! The way the statutes are written it seems like his actions, if applied specifically to the wording of the laws, actually don’t run afoul.

    And this I suppose really brings me to rhe crux of the whole issue. What Rick Perry did, at least in my opinion, is a clear example of what SHOULD be considered abuse of power. The fact that the wording of the statute actually gets him out of it, is problematic. What if he had ordered the state national guard to take this DA’s children into protective custody, as an ultimatum until she resigned from office? I mean we could continue ramping things up into absurdity where the current wording of the statute would still protect him. That means the wording is problematic.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

    • Oliver_W_H

      Glad you enjoyed it! I agree that Rick Perry’s actions should be a violation of something, but figuring out how do draft a law that proscribes his actions, but not legitimate uses of a governor’s veto power is a challenge. Where exactly is the line between a legitimate reason to veto something and an illegitimate reason? It’s not enough that the veto be politically motivated. Virtually everything a governor does is politically motivated in one way or another. And what’s more, the DA had sort of given Gov. Perry legitimate grounds to cut the PIU’s funds. I’m certain Amanda and I will revisit this discussion in a future episode, because public corruption is such a Gordian knot I feel like we could talk about it for hours on end.

      • Paul Vinet

        What’s troubling is that the current wording of the law seems to give literally no line as to what’s ok and what isn’t. I’m not sure if the Texas national guard is controlled by the governor, but if it was, then who is to say my example of him ordering the DAs children be taken into protective custody as part of a “statewide emergency” would not be ok?

        Just so long as whatever he is doing could be done through a series of actions that in some circumstance somewhere could be what a governor is allowed to do (I.e. if he can order that the national guard go to protect certain individuals in a state of emergency, then ordering such protections could be “a part of his governorly duties” and thus he could have it done specifically to the DA’s children.

        Or if not that, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to come up with some other absurd examples. It seems like this is specifically what abuse of power laws are designed to prevents.

        Except that texas’s current abuse of power law has a fine print stating that as long as it’s a power that the government official is abusing, that it is ok. It’s worded to say that it’s only illegal for a government official to abuse SOMEONE ELSE’S power. As long as it’s their own power granted by their office, then it’s fine to abuse.

        It just seems so absurd lol.

      • Paul Vinet

        And I’m unsure if I accept that the DA’s actions –as an individual– gave the governor grounds to veto funding to her entire department as an ultimatum? I don’t know if I agree with that.

        It feels like, to me at least, that Perry was making a public morality judgement that because of her actions, that she really OUGHT to resign–but is that his place to make such a decision? And if the answer to that is yes–why is that grounds for him to veto funding appropriated to her entire office (an office with many employees who weren’t involved in her misbehavior)?

        • Oliver_W_H

          Just for clarity, he didn’t veto the Travis County DA’s entire budget. Just the portion that funds the Public Integrity Unit. Which, to my mind, is why this case raises so many questions.

          For political reasons, Rick Perry vetoed the funding of a unit tasked with prosecuting instances of public corruption whose boss was arrested for a DUI, was belligerent to police officers, threatened them with jail, and was herself sentenced to 45 days in jail.

          If it weren’t for the political motivations–if she were, say, the District Attorney for Kings County, NY, rather than Travis County, TX–I think questioning the efficacy of the Public Integrity Unit in those circumstances would be legitimate, and that vetoing the Unit’s funding would be legitimate as well. But because of those political reasons (and maybe because he was himself under investigation by the PIU) charging Perry with public corruption seems perfectly reasonable. Except that the laws under which he was indicted don’t seem to cover his actions anyway. This whole thing is a mess.

  • Paul Vinet

    Small nitpick: by the definition of enemy you gave, would the USSR been considered an “enemy” during the Cold War? I think that the lack of official formal declaration of war and/or open hostility, that this should not be what would disqualify a country as not fitting the definition.

    Still, there was no “aid” or “comfort” being given, so it does fail to meet the 2nd requirement for something to be considered an act of treason. Whether in a different situation where someone were to be giving actual aid to Iran, I don’t think we should so quickly dismiss a potentially hostile foreign power as not meeting this statute simply because we are not engaged in active open hostilities against them.

    • Oliver_W_H

      Yeah, “enemy” is one of those words that the courts would probably take an “I know it when I see it” attitude toward. I still don’t think Iran qualified. Yes, there’s animosity, but if every country that we weren’t on good terms with were an enemy, that would be a very long list.

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