D.C.’s Discrimination Escalation
From The Scrapbook
Dec 12, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 13 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Readers outside of Washington may or may not be aware that there has been a more or less continuous movement, since the late 1960s, to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital city. It came about as close to success as it ever will during the Carter administration (1978), when a constitutional voting rights amendment passed Congress but failed to be ratified by the requisite number of states.
His Honor Marion Barry
The Scrapbook isn’t about to rehearse the arguments for or against statehood; we simply mention this fact by way of introducing the latest reason why statehood will never be granted to the District. Councilman Marion Barry—the onetime four-term mayor of Washington—has just introduced legislation to add “ex-offenders” to the list of people guaranteed legal safeguards against discrimination. Lest you think adding convicted felons to the burgeoning roll of protected species is a nonstarter, think again. The D.C. Council is expected to pass Barry’s bill.
Indeed, as the Washington Post delicately points out, Washington’s Human Rights Act is “considered one of the broadest anti-discrimination documents in the nation . . . [offering] protection based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of residence or business.”
As readers might imagine, the beleaguered business community in the nation’s capital has registered its self-evident concern about an ex-offender provision—must they really be obliged, under punishment of law, not to discriminate against convicted murderers and rapists?—but as the existing act suggests, such concerns usually fall on deaf ears in city government.
To be sure, as the redoubtable Marion Barry insists, ex-offenders are, by definition, people who have done their time in prison and are expected to make their way in civil society. (And Councilman Barry, an alumnus of the Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg, and the Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto, knows whereof he speaks on this.) Nor does The Scrapbook believe that people should be punished ad infinitum for crimes committed in the past—or, put another way, for the not-so-serious offenses from which they have learned their lesson. Still, in a city with 11 percent unemployment, is it necessary or advisable to add “ex-offenders” to a comically broad list that will place another burden on employers already dealing with an Orwellian bureaucracy?
It is worth noting, for readers attuned to the ironies of life, that one of the severest critics of the Barry measure is the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. They argue, and not without reason, that the Human Rights Act was intended to protect District residents who face discrimination for “arbitrary circumstances,” such as age or sex or race. The decision to kill somebody, or commit grand theft auto, or even to possess crack cocaine, is not the same thing.
Happy Birthday, IJ
Everyone loves a David and Goliath story, and that’s part of the reason we take pleasure in honoring the Institute for Justice as it closes out its 20th-anniversary year. Its “merry band of litigators,” in the words of another admirer, go to court to fight for people’s basic rights—to earn a living free from unreasonable regulation, to criticize the government, to keep their own property, to send their children to the school of their choice—and its grateful beneficiaries include hair braiders and street vendors and limo drivers. Our current favorite IJ clients, though, are a few dozen Benedictine monks in Covington, Louisiana.
For decades, the monks of Saint -Joseph Abbey had been making simple wooden caskets when it came time to bury their own. But in 2007, seeking new means of supporting themselves by their labor, they opened Saint Joseph Woodworks, to make caskets for sale. Instantly, they were informed that it was a crime, punishable by fines and jail, to sell “funeral merchandise” without a funeral director’s license and the acquisition of costly embalming equipment: Thus spake the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, eight of whose nine members are licensed funeral directors.
Never mind that the monks had no intention of embalming anyone or handling dead bodies—the funeral cartel wasn’t about to brook minor competition. It squelched even an attempt to secure a legislative exemption from licensure for the brothers of Saint Joseph.
Enter IJ, which sued in federal court, arguing that Louisiana’s restriction served no public purpose (in a state where caskets are not required for burial) but only enriched a government-protected private group and squelched the monks’ right to earn an honest living. In July, a federal judge in New Orleans agreed and struck down the law.
The funeral cartel has appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps bringing nearer IJ’s strategic goal: a historic Supreme Court ruling that government favoritism toward certain private economic interests is unconstitutional. Already there is disagreement among appeals courts: A unanimous 6th Circuit struck down Tennessee’s nearly identical casket monopoly in 2002, while the 10th Circuit upheld Oklahoma’s law in 2004—both times in cases brought by IJ. The issue is ripening.
And The Scrapbook is looking forward to the day when 20 years’ gallant work pays off and Goliath is buried.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Climate Change
Elsewhere in this issue, you can read Steven F. Hayward’s account of the second batch of emails to be leaked from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, exposing yet more evidence of chicanery among the global warming smart set. What caught the eye of The Scrapbook in the latest cache was an email less substantive than the ones Hayward focuses on, but nonetheless highly revealing of the spirit of the climate change enterprise.
Following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 to Al Gore and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), one of the more egregious brawlers of the climate science community, emailed the following lyrics that the NCAR folks sang at their holiday office party (to the tune of “The First Noël”):
We’re sure you’ll agree with The Scrapbook that it was bad enough when the climate campaigners subverted sound science, marginalized skeptics, and stampeded the world towards a growth-killing agenda of socialist planning and high carbon taxes. But an awkward parody of a lovely Cornish Christmas carol? Now they’ve gone too far.
Hot Gossip, Hot off the Presses
Readers need no introduction to Joseph Epstein, scholar, essayist, iconoclast, and wit—and, of course, a contributing editor to this magazine. Cranking up the cliché machine, we are bold to say that his wry observations and penetrating insights, frequently appearing in these pages, are among the ornaments of language in our age. Which is The Scrapbook’s way of announcing that his latest gem, Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (Houghton Mifflin, 256 pp., $25), has just been published.
Gossip, as the subhed would have it, is not quite the dismissible vice of conventional wisdom. And gossip, as Epstein describes it, has a long, complicated history in human annals—and has, against all odds, become more, not less, prominent in our sophisticated age. Why is this? What, exactly, is the nature of gossip, and what human need does it fulfill? Is it always good, always bad, or a measure of our status as social animals?
With his customary mixture of humor and wisdom, our author answers these questions, adds icing to the cake with erudition and hilarity, and polishes a subject both fascinating and repellent. The Scrapbook does not have to sell Joseph Epstein to Weekly Standard readers, but we’ll say it anyway: Buy this book!
Biden Strikes Again
The vice president visited Iraq last week, where he took the occasion to issue the following statement: “We’re not claiming victory,” he said. “What we’re claiming here is we’ve done our job the administration said it would do. To end a war we did not start . . . ”
This is a disgrace on many levels. Let’s leave aside Biden’s dutiful allusion to his boss’s well-known distaste for “winning” anything except his own elections. The Iraq war was in fact started by the United States, during the Bush administration, with the approval of both houses of Congress, including the “yea” vote of then-Senator Biden. What exactly did Biden mean by we? Last time The Scrapbook checked, the office the duties of which Joe Biden swore to discharge was vice president of the United States of America, not vice president of the antiwar caucus of the Democratic party.
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
"Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it. No, not that movement. The one from the 1920s, with the sheets and the flaming crosses . . . ” (“The Not-So-Invisible Empire,” Kevin Boyle, New York Times, November 27).