Justice Department Refuses to Defend Congress

  Justice Department Refuses to Defend Congress

Posted by CN Staff on January 26, 2005 at 12:44:54 PT
Press Release 
Source: Common Dreams  

Washington -- The U.S. Department of Justice has notified Congress that it will not defend a law prohibiting the display of marijuana policy reform ads in public transit systems. The controversial statute was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court. The Solicitor General Paul Clement stated in a letter to Congress that, “the government does not have a viable argument to advance in the statute’s defense and will not appeal the district court’s decision.” Today is Congress’ last day to respond to the federal appeals court in the D.C. Circuit.
“The Justice Department finally met a law so unconstitutional that it could not find any way to defend it,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “Congress should stop trying to silence public discussion of the cruel and expensive failures of current marijuana laws.” As the Wall Street Journal reported today, “Mr. Clement’s opinion also could serve as a warning to Congress that it can’t assume the Justice Department will support the controversial riders that lawmakers have been adding to funding bills if those riders are challenged in court.” The Wall Street Journal added, “Two past solicitors general, Charles Fried and Seth Waxman, said it is rare for a solicitor general to refuse to defend a statute passed by Congress” and that “Mr. Fried, who served under President Reagan, recalled making such a decision only twice.”The law at issue in ACLU et al., v. Norman Y. Mineta is Section 177 of the FY2004 federal spending bill, also known as the ‘Istook Amendment,’ which threatens to cut off more than $3 billion in federal funding from local transit authorities nationwide that accept advertisements critical of current marijuana laws. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) introduced this amendment to the spending bill last year and Congress re-included the same law in this year’s federal budget. The ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Change the Climate, Inc. filed the lawsuit in February 2004 after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority rejected an advertisement they submitted that criticized marijuana laws. In June 2004, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the ‘Istook Amendment’ unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, stating “there is a clear public interest in preventing the chilling of speech on the basis of viewpoint,” and that, “the government articulated no legitimate state interest in the suppression of this particular speech other than the fact that it disapproves of the message, an illegitimate and constitutionally impermissible reason.” The government initially appealed the district court’s decision, but the Solicitor General recently notified Congress that the Justice Department would not pursue the appeal because there was, “well established Supreme Court precedent” that the law “amounted to viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.” The Solicitor General’s letter to Congress can be viewed online at:“The government has resorted to silencing free speech because it knows it cannot win an honest debate about marijuana prohibition,” said Steve Fox, Director for Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Such desperate attempts to prop up a failed policy show just how bankrupt a policy marijuana prohibition is.”Following the district court’s ruling, the plaintiffs displayed their paid advertisement in the D.C. Metro during the month of September, 2004. The ad shows a group of ordinary people standing behind prison bars under the headline, “Marijuana Laws Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars to Lock Up Non-Violent Americans.” The advertisement can be viewed online at:“We’re delighted that the Justice Department has refused to defend Congressman Istook’s indefensible attack on free speech and drug policy reform,” said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s a shame that he has caused the federal government to waste so much taxpayer money pursuing this futile issue to this point.”Joe White, Executive Director of Change the Climate, Inc. added, “Almost 800,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations last year. We applaud the Justice Department for telling Congress to back off. Our drug laws are a failure, and Congress has gone to great lengths to hide this truth from the public.”The same groups who sought to run the advertisement filed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are represented by the Washington D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter LLP. The lawsuit names Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation as the defendant.With the dismissal of the government’s appeal, the district court’s injunction prohibiting the Department of Transportation from enforcing the Istook Amendment becomes final and permanent.The Solicitor General’s letter to Congress, the advertisement, legal documents and background materials are online at: -- -- and Title: Justice Department Refuses to Defend Congress in Legal Battle Over Law Censoring Marijuana Policy Ads Solicitor General Says GovernmentNote: ‘Does Not Have a Viable Argument to Advance in the Statute’s Defense’ Contact: American Civil Liberities Union Tony Newman, DPA, 646-335-5384Elizabeth Méndez Berry 646-335-2242 Source: Common Dreams (ME)Published: January 26, 2005Copyright: 2005 Common DreamsContact: editor Website: Articles:Groups Display Marijuana Policy Ads in D.C. Gets Derailed in Favor of Legalizing Drugs OKd Voids Law Against Drug Ads On Metro

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Comment #6 posted by global_warming on January 26, 2005 at 16:00:33 PT
This is Good News
The feds can't touch Angel Raich.
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Comment #5 posted by dongenero on January 26, 2005 at 14:06:34 PT
put them in their place
I guess the judicial branch is telling the legislative branch, "We'll see your 'mandatory sentencing guidelines' and raise you one 'unconstitutional legislation'".It's about time. 
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Comment #4 posted by E_Johnson on January 26, 2005 at 13:51:30 PT
Hmmm I don't understand
Are the DOJ lawyers saying they consider Congress indefensible?(Yuk yuk yuk)Seriously, what lawyer in this day and age wants a legal resume tarnished by defending such tawdry nonsense?
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on January 26, 2005 at 13:27:38 PT:
(Laughing uproariously)
Reformers:1; Knuckledragging Mouthbreathers:0One piece of legislation you can bet will never make it to the floor in Congress: penalizing its members for engaging such blatant oath-breaking as Istook engaged in when he tried to muzzle the reform groups by his infringing on their First Amendment rights. If he got hit with a fine for that, the rest would sit up and take notice.How many millions of dollars were spent in this idiotic spit-ball game? Any number is far too much...
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on January 26, 2005 at 13:09:05 PT
Take Action Now!Dear Friend:I'm writing today because NORML needs your help persuading the Ohio Legislature to reject legislation that seeks to amend state law to criminally punish marijuana smokers for "drugged driving" even when the individual is neither under the influence nor impaired to drive. The
lobbying efforts of NORML supporters and concerned citizens like you helped to successfully derail a similar legislative effort last year, and we need your assistance again now.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on January 26, 2005 at 13:01:02 PT
News Brief from The Associated Press
Justice Dept. Drops Appeal of New Law On Drug Ads in Transit Systems Wednesday January 26, 2005 
Washington (AP) - The Justice Department has decided it won't defend a new law that withholds federal funds from Metro and other transit agencies that run pro-marijuana ads. In June, a federal judge ruled the law was unconstitutional and infringed on free speech rights. The Justice Department had planned to appeal the decision. But in a letter to Congressional lawyers last month, the department's Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement says he didn't have a "viable argument" to defend the law. Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook attached a rider to a 2004 appropriations bill that threatened to cut funding for transit authorities if they displayed ads promoting the legalization or medical use of marijuana or other drugs. The American Civil Liberties Union and three drug advocacy groups filed suit after Metro declined to run the ads because of the law. Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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