Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, finally held his delayed hearing on so-called Stand Your Ground laws. The hearing entitled, “‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force”, was originally scheduled to be held on September 17th.
The witness list changed somewhat from the earlier scheduled hearing. It added three US Representatives as witnesses in one panel and substituted the president of a prosecutor’s association for a Florida state’s attorney. The list is below:
The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge
United States Representative (D-OH-11)
The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez
United States Representative (D-IL-4)
The Honorable Louie Gohmert
United States Representative (R-TX-1)
President and CEO
Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.
Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the Criminal Justice Institute
Harvard Law School
John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D.
Crime Prevention Research Center
Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies
The webcast of the 2 hour hearing can be seen here.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wade through all 2 hours of testimony to get the gist of what was said. Attorney Andrew Branca, author of The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Ed. has done it for us over at the Legal Insurrection blog. In addition to summarizing the testimony of each witness as well as that of the senators on the panel, he gives his take on the whole charade.
My first general observation is that the anti-SYG folks were, as experience would suggest, big on emotion and small on actual facts, law, or data.
One of the anti-SYG witnesses, Professor Sullivan from Harvard Law School, did raise some actual data–but when these were utterly destroyed by the later testimony of Dr. John Lott and Elliot Shapiro of CATA (sic), Professor Sullivan was swift to discount the use of data (which he himself had introduced into the testimony) and instead focus on the “real people” behind the data. In sharp contrast, the testimony of the pro-SYG speakers was focused and direct.
Second, the anti-SYG folks persistently conflated the legal concept of Stand Your Ground with utterly discrete legal concepts, such as presumptions of reasonableness and civil/criminal immunity.
When this is done by people without legal training or experience, such as Sabrina Fulton, one can of course accept it as an unknowing error. When it is persistently done by a Harvard Law Professor and a head of an (allegedly) leading association of State Prosecutors, one can only wonder at either their actual intent or their underlying intelligence.
Indeed, their misstatements of the law were so egregious that at one point Dr. Lott was obliged to read aloud from the actual Florida statute they had badly mischaracterized, to which they naturally had no substantive response. In that case they were claiming that even criminal aggressors could claim Stand Your Ground privilege under Florida law, a claim that the plain language of the statute read by Dr. Lott clearly destroys.
In any case, it is clear that their effort is intended to be a broad attack on all three fronts — likely with immunity being the true target, as it represents the largest pot of gold for their supporters — rather than any focused concern on Stand Your Ground, per se.
Finally, the bottom line is I expect this hearing, and any similar subsequent efforts, to be little more than political theater, with no substantive changes resulting to the law of self-defense.
I certainly hope Mr. Branca is correct that there will be no substantive changes and that this is nothing more than political theater. One explanation that I’ve heard for these hearings is that they are an effort by Sen. Durbin to keep alive a polarizing issue so as to promote higher turnout by African-Americans in the 2014 mid-term elections. Given that Durbin has shown time and again that he is a shameless opportunist, I wouldn’t put this past him.
UPDATE: Kurt Hofmann, the St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner, gives his take on Durbin and these hearings. I agree with Kurt that having Durbin chair any committee with the word “Constitution” in its name is “a grim joke.”