November 27, 2006

A tale of two truths

by Sean Sirrine

Today I read two different stories that had a common theme; legal theory and "the truth." Since it isn't often that I get to discuss one of my favorite topics, (that being the definition of truth), I figured I'd at least put up a little post about the strange reality of law.

In one story I read about "the intangible right of honest services" which is seen by many to hamstring politicians because nobody knows what 'honest services' means. (For example, can President Bush be brought up on charges for claiming to be a conservative and then spending so much federal money?) In the other story I found that we still have federal and state laws that forbid alcoholic beverage producers from promoting the benefits of their products regardless of the truth of the statements. (For example, a doctor can tell you it is good for your heart to drink a glass of wine a day, but if the wine industry does it they can get in some very serious trouble.)

In one scenario we have a statute that seems to potentially make it a crime to change political positions. (It isn't technically a crime to do so, but there is certainly some worry that it could be litigated.) On the other hand, you have statutes that make it a crime to tell the truth. I can't see how either of these things is good for our country.

I don't really have anything more to say about this topic. Both laws are facially absurd. It seems to me that they both resemble 'hate laws' in that they don't serve any real legal purpose. (Some may argue that hate laws do serve the purpose of strengthening the punishment for heinous crimes, and if it increases potential sentences they are right.) Just like the crimes codified as hate laws are already crimes, so too is it already illegal to defraud people, (most people brought up on charges for violating 'honest services' could easily be brought up on charges of fraud or even RICO), and so too is it already illegal to make inaccurate statement about the health benefits of alcohol. (In fact, it is illegal to make any statement about your product that is untrue.)

Laws this broad are not only unconstitutional, they are bad public policy.

Read about the wine laws here at The Volokh Conspiracy.
Read about the honest services statute at the Palm Beach Post.

November 27, 2006 10:09 PM | TrackBack
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