Devil in the Details


Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth has never been a fan of gun control. Nevertheless, her latest foray into the public debate over the issue seems a little bit odd. Chenoweth is the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the Lautenberg amendment, a 1996 provision that effectively prohibits gun ownership by anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. The amendment, she claims, violates the Second and Tenth Amendments, and is an ex post facto law (because it's retroactive) as well as an unfunded government mandate.

What's more, she says, police sometimes charge both parties in a domestic violence dispute, so the Lautenberg amendment might prevent abused women from defending themselves. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, nearly four million women have been abused by their husbands or boyfriends over the past year, and 26 percent of all murdered women are killed by their partners. A mere 3 percent of murdered men, on the other hand, are killed by their wives or girlfriends. In the spirit of frontier justice, Rep. Chenoweth prefers to keep guns in the hands of abused wives rather than keeping them out of the hands of their abusive husbands. Why does this strike us as less than a fair fight?

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The past year has seen the revival of an old Republican proposal, the division of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. For the fifth time since 1983, northwestern Republicans have urged that the court, which serves nine western states, be divided in two, arguing that the court is too large and inefficient, and that a division is necessary for the effective administration of justice. Legislation dividing the court passed the Senate in July on a party-line vote, and the issue has been pushed to the top of the agenda.

But there's more to this story. While there may be good administrative reasons for splitting the Ninth Circuit—after all, it serves 50 million people (more than any of the nation's other circuit courts), has a caseload of more than 7,000, and takes an average of 429 days to reach a decision, compared to 315 days on average nationwide—the bid to split the Ninth Circuit comes in the midst of an all-out Republican assault on "judicial activism" in the federal courts. Conservative congressmen have held up the nominations of many Clinton judicial appointees, called for the impeachment of liberal judges like Thelton Henderson of California, and even proposed a rules change that would give senators a de facto veto over judicial nominees for their circuit.

Tellingly, the Ninth Circuit is probably the country's most liberal. Over the past few years, Ninth Circuit judges have ruled against laws banning assisted suicide, upheld the Brady law, thrown out numerous death sentences, and dealt several important blows to the timber industry. Thus when Republican senators argue that the Ninth is dominated by Californians who don't understand their constituents' needs, the reality is that they don't like a court dominated by liberals.

If Republicans were truly concerned about the Ninth Circuit being overburdened with cases, wouldn't they try harder to fill its vacancies? At this writing, 9 of the court's 28 seats are vacant, and the Senate has not even begun the process of confirmation for four nominees. The nomination of William Fletcher, a moderate Berkeley law professor and one of the nation's leading experts on federal jurisdiction, has languished since it was sent to the Senate on April 25, 1995. Conservatives have also opposed the nomination of several other Clinton nominees, including Margaret McKeown, a highly regarded expert on intellectual property law (recently derided by Senator John Ashcroft as a "liberal elitist" with "ACLU marching orders in hand").

A 1994 Management Review article, written before the current string of vacancies, praised the Ninth Circuit as "a finely tuned watch" and mentioned that other courts were trying to model themselves after it. Should we really be surprised that, with one-third of its seats vacant, the Ninth Circuit is now experiencing delays?


After the 1994 elections swept a Republican majority into office, Congress made a big deal about subjecting itself to all the laws it imposes on others. What are we to make, then, of Democratic Representative John P. Murtha's proposed amendment to the House's Justice Department spending bill for fiscal year 1998? The Pennsylvania congressman would reimburse legal fees to members of Congress or to House or Senate employees unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Justice Department on charges pertaining to their official duties.

Given that hardly a day goes by without some congressman calling for a special prosecutor or the Justice Department to look into the misdeeds of a Clinton administration official, it is ironic that supporters of the amendment have touted the measure as an assertion of "the independence of Congress" and a remedy to Washington's "cannibalistic" culture.

The amendment would create a privileged class of government employees—those fortunate enough to work on Capitol Hill. So congressmen and their staffs, uniquely, would be sheltered from Washington's cannibalistic culture—leaving them free to cannibalize everybody else. So much for Congress subjecting itself to the laws of the land.


The American Spectator makes great sport of President Clinton's alleged peccadilloes. The Spectator also finds reliable virtue in the free market. How does the Spectator blend market values and family values? Try its back-page classifieds. You can Meet Women World-Wide through the Cherry Blossoms service, or find Lovely Eastern European Ladies through Club Prima. Is this a philosophical statement about the superiority of arranged marriages, or perhaps a principled brief for open immigration? Maybe it's just the way Emmett Tyrrell's crowd finds dates. Why are we not surprised that the magazine that brought us Troopergate and the "real" Anita Hill would offer its readers mail-order brides?

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