A week ago, I was present for the dedication ceremony for our newest national monument – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall. That’s one of the many reasons I really enjoy being here in DC – the unique experiences like this one. It’s not every day that you get to hear the president dedicate a new national monument. Some of the speakers I heard: Tommy Hilfiger, Al Sharpton, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Ken Salazar (Interior Secretary), and President Barack Obama. It was a very special occasion- one that I’ll remember for a long time. The day before, I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King stood and listened to his “I Have a Dream” speech on my iPod. It reminded me how recent this history is and how far our country has come just within a few decades.
Two other Supreme Court issues have come up the past few days. First- the case concerning the Stolen Valor Act. In 2005, the Congress and President Bush made it a federal crime to lie about one’s military service- to claim you served when you didn’t, to claim you earned a medal that you didn’t, etc. At first, most people seem to agree with the thrust of this law, but upon reflection, it begins to seem quite troubling. The law made it a crime to simply lie, which not only is a dangerous precedent but also in conflict with the First Amendment. This isn’t fraud or false impersonation or defamation or slander or libel; it’s simply lying without hurting or defaming anyone else. It’s a slippery slope indeed to allow the federal government to criminalize lying, and the Supreme Court should hold the law to be unconstitutional, dangerous, and a direct attack on free speech.
Second- I attended a moot court this week for the State’s argument in Missouri v. Frye, a case about whether an attorney’s failing to notify his client of a plea bargain constitutes ineffective counsel that implicates the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel provision. Missouri’s top three attorneys were there- the Attorney General, the chief criminal prosecutor and the chief civil attorney (Solicitor). The AG argued for the state against a panel of GW Law professors simulating the Supreme Court, and he didn’t seem to fare well. He basically argued that the Sixth Amendment’s protections only applied to issues that could conceivably come into a trial, but the amendment clearly states that a defendant has a right to counsel during the entirety of a criminal prosecution, not just the trial. He argued that the Supreme Court shouldn’t overturn Missouri law and precedent on plea bargains, but if the Sixth Amendment does apply, then it trumps Missouri law. He asserted that his own experience as a prosecutor in Missouri trumps the Missouri Court of Appeals’ opinion of Missouri law, which the panel of professors didn’t buy into either. In sum, it looks like Missouri has a tough argument here and that the right to effective counsel does extend into simple notification of a plea bargain offer.