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The Case of the "Stop Juvenile Crime Initiative"

11:00 PM, Nov 24, 1996 • By ANDREW PEYTON THOMAS
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Arizona's lawyers, for their part, joined in circling the wagons, for less ideological but equally self-serving reasons. The legal profession underwrote the opposition campaign in a manner befitting one of the state's most powerful special-interest groups.

The bar association recognizes, of course, that greater judicial power is good for its members' business. The more disputes must be settled in court, the more work and income flow attorneys' way. It was with therefore predictable hyperventilation that Michael Kimerer, outgoing president of the Arizona state bar association and a criminal defense attorney, termed the initiative's modest limitations on judges nothing less than "a deliberate and calculated move to destroy the constitutional power of the courts."

In response to Prop. 102, the bar mobilized a welloiled political machine more typical of a corrupt labor union than a high-minded association of legal professionals. Arizona has an "integrated bar," which means that a lawyer must join the lawyers' guild and pay annual dues in order to practice in the state. Despite a string of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions barring the use of mandatory dues by unions and state bar associations for political purposes, the Arizona bar voted to donate $ 20,000 in mandatory dues to the fight against the juvenile-justice initiative. The bar justified this violation of its members' First Amendment liberties by calling the defeat of Prop. 102 essential to the "administration of justice." A Phoenix-area newspaper quoted court officials as saying it was a "demonstrable fact" that the initiative would damage the state's juvenile-justice system. Meanwhile, a drug-legalization measure also on the ballot, which could require the early release of almost 1,000 incarcerated drug offenders, drew nary a penny -- or a rebuke -- from the state's juridical establishment.

Like the teachers' unions in California, which sank that state's voucher initiative in 1993 with TV commercials warning that covens of witches would soon be running voucher-supported schools, the opposition to Arizona's juvenile-crime initiative took to spreading preposterous falsehoods. One was the contention, first put forth by Chief Justice Feldman, that the initiative would permit the legislature and government agents to round up wholesome youngsters against their parents' wishes with no court hearing. Such a practice is, among other things, forbidden by the due process guarantees in the state and federal constitutions. Nonetheless, the newspapers gave prominent play to this and other outlandish claims.

Yet despite the tsunami of disinformation, the initiative passed. Almost two-thirds of Arizona voters endorsed these overdue reforms. Public trepidation over high juvenile-crime rates undoubtedly concentrated the voters' minds. But there was another, broader civics lesson to be learned from the exercise. Arizonans saw for themselves the danger to society when government's least responsive and arguably most powerful branch is controlled by a single special-interest group -- lawyers.

When unelected judges wield their great and solemn powers irresponsibly, the public is liable to rise up and assert its legitimate concern for public safety. Eventually, as Proposition 102 shows, frustrated citizens will organize and lay down the law themselves.

By Andrew Peyton Thomas; Andrew Peyton Thomas, a Bradley fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is deputy counsel to the governor of Arizona