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Hang in There, Governor Hogan

Gov. Hogan

The Maryland state legislature is back in session, and the Democrats have announced that one of their priorities is overriding Governor Larry Hogan’s veto last year of a bill that would automatically re-enfranchise felons when they are released from prison, even if they are still on parole or probation (Maryland already automatically re-enfranchises felons once they are no longer on probation or parole). Governor Hogan is adamant that this is a bad bill.

And Governor Hogan is right, so here’s hoping that the scheduled veto-override effort fails in the state senate this week (alas, the override passed the house last month, with the bare minimum 3/5 majority required). 

If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. We don’t let everyone vote — not children, not non-citizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not felons — because we have certain objective, minimum standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that must be met before someone is given a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government. People who have committed a serious crime against their fellow citizens don’t meet those standards.

The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison — let alone when parole and probation have not yet been served. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Deep down, the Left knows all this; that’s why, though it is happy to let felons vote, it is somehow reluctant to restore their Second Amendment rights.   

The Maryland bill’s proponents can’t make the (lame) argument in this case that the felon has “paid his debt to society” because he hasn’t, so now they are arguing that re-enfranchisement leads to less recidivism. But there is no persuasive evidence that this is so, and in fact the claim confuses cause and effect. That is, the people who have turned over a new leaf do not commit crimes, and so they have had their right to vote restored and they vote; they do not decide to turn over a new leaf because their right to vote has been restored.

Thus, while it is frequently claimed that a Florida study supports re-enfranchisement, former attorney general Michael Mukasey has pointed out that this claim is flawed:

Florida has had, and indeed has broadened, a system that requires felons to go through an application process before their voting rights are restored. Obviously, those who are motivated to navigate such a process self-select as a group less likely to repeat their crimes. Suggesting that the automatic restoration of voting rights to all felons would lower recidivism is rather like suggesting that we can raise the incomes of all college students if we automatically grant them a college degree—because statistics show that people with college degrees have higher incomes than those without them.

Another claim being made by the bill’s proponents is that felons should be able to vote since they pay taxes.  But this argument proves too much:  Felons are subject to taxes (for example, on investments or other income) when they're in prison, too, and taxes are also paid by nonvoters like children, noncitizens, and the mentally incapacitated.
I have written more about this issue here.  Hang in there, Governor Hogan!

Rand Paul on Drugs – At last week’s presidential debate in Iowa, Rand Paul said that, because people of different races use drugs at about the same rate but African Americans disproportionately make up people in prison for drug offenses, this suggests there is racism in the criminal-justice system.  But this is wrong both factually and logically, as I discuss here.

And Equal Time for the Democrats – And at a recent debate among the Democratic presidential candidates,Hillary Clinton made disturbing remarks on race and crime. Her claims of  “systemic racism” in our criminal justice system and suggestion that it has resulted in an open season on young black men is uninformed, divisive, and irresponsible. I would add that Bernie Sanders’s claim that there should be an attorney general’s investigation whenever anyone dies in police custody is eyebrow-raising, as is his demand that police forces reflect the demographic makeup of the citizenry (quotas, anyone?).

Let’s Make a Deal, Bernie – Free tuition at Harvard, in exchange for more transparency in admissions:  with an eye, in particular, on stopping racial admissions discrimination.  Read all about the intriguing new campaign in this New York Times article.

More about “What Candidates Can Do” – Peter Wood, who is president of the National Association of Scholars (and frequent ally of the Center for Equal Opportunity), recently encouraged the presidential candidates to opine – and opine wisely – on higher education issues.  With regard to his Item #3 (“End higher education’s destructive focus on race”), I’d like to point out two specific proposals that have been made, along the lines of the legislation that Peter discusses.

First, Professor Gail Heriot, another CEO ally (who moonlights as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), had an excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed last year that made two important points.  The first is that the “mismatch” that results from racial preferences in university admissions is an important factor in the relative dearth of African American graduates in the STEM disciplines.  But the second is that, while some of the pressure to use these preferences is self-imposed, a lot of it is not — and, in particular, much of it comes from accrediting agencies.  She calls on Congress to step up to the plate and “prohibit[] accreditors from wading into student-body diversity issues.”  Those interested in more information about what Congress should do on this can read Professor Heriot’s additional words of wisdom here and here.

Second, as long as university officials take race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions, a bill requiring publication of the use of such preferences is necessary. Such a bill would require universities that receive federal funding to report annually and in detail on whether and how race, color, and national origin factor into the student admissions process. The Supreme Court has, alas, upheld such discrimination as constitutionally permissible, at least for now, but this is supposedly subject to numerous restrictions.  So even if some insist that taxpayer-funded universities should continue to practice racial discrimination in admissions, there’s no justification for it being done secretly and illegally – that is, without public disclosure and without taking pains to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the relevant Senate committee and is an outspoken critic of racial preferences, ought to be supportive; so should his House counterpart, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights endorsed this approach, including “sunshine” legislation, as a recommendation to the President and Congress in a 2006 report; and Rep. Steve King (R–IA) has on more than one occasion introduced legislation like this.  You can find a draft of the bill (the “Racial and Ethnic Preferences Disclosure Act of 2014″) and more discussion here.

Two Things – Two short items to wrap things up with. 

First, the Chronicle of Higher Education has done all of us a great favor by collecting a baker’s dozen of its favorite Onion pieces on higher education topics.  My favorite is #8:  “Minority Student’s Perspective Better Be Pretty Goddamn Diverse If He Wants Full Scholarship.”  Many a truth was spoken in jest, and many of the truths the Onion speaks here are politically incorrect.

On the other hand, Inside Higher Ed did no one a favor by printing yet another slam against what are called “colorblind” practices — and on Martin Luther King Day, no less.  Here’s my posted response:

Three points. First, with regard to hiring and promoting faculty (as opposed to the admission of graduate students), it is almost always illegal to use preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex. See here.

Second, while unfortunately such discrimination is allowed in student admissions, it is increasingly (and rightly) disfavored and will be barred sooner or later; and not only is the article correct in its concession that there has been no court decision banning admission practices that have only a “disparate impact,” it is extremely unlikely that any court would do so, since the Supreme Court has said that the applicable federal laws (the Constitution and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), ban only “disparate treatment” and not mere “disparate impact.”

Third, it is laudable to be aggressive in rooting out actual discrimination, but discrimination against anyone because of race or ethnicity should be rejected; likewise, it is also fine to get rid of admissions criteria that eliminate students who are actually better qualified than those who are actually chosen, but those criteria should be eliminated because they are defective, not because they have a particular racial and ethnic result: If a criterion were disqualifying white or Asian students who were better qualified than black and Latino students who were actually chosen, that criterion should discarded, too.