Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.

7/17/2019

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL*

My daughter has a t-shirt with this phrase emblazoned across it, including the asterisk. Below the phrase is another list, a typical disclaimer. It reads: Must be 18 years or older, not available in all 50 states, some restrictions apply. Sadly, that disclaimer does apply in all aspects to our Pledge of Allegiance.

Let’s break it down, shall we? Must be 18 years or older. Minors have some basic legal rights – due process, equal protection, a safe environment to live in, but children don't have the right to vote, own property, consent to medical treatment, sue or be sued, or enter into certain types of contracts. Other rights they gain as they mature. Freedom of speech is one such right. The US Supreme Court ruled in the 1988 case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that schools can censor student publications if they feel doing so is related to a legitimate educational interest. They are also restricted from employment until reaching a certain age that varies from state to state. In Texas, 14 and 15-year-olds can work no more than 18 hours a week, ages 16-17 are free to work as much as 48 hours a week. There are other restrictions centered around ensuring time for school and even what types of work 14-15-year-olds can perform.

Not available in all 50 states. Until the landmark Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the ability for same-sex couples to marry varied state by state. Today, we have a new plethora of state laws restricting abortion access. While none of them have taken effect yet, other laws designed to restrict access by making it difficult to operate a clinic have. 26 states have targeted regulation that seeks to make abortion clinics either meet standards comparable to surgical centers or require specific clinician requirements. These requirements set standards that may be impossible for providers to meet. So, while Roe v Wade is still the law of the land, many states are working to restrict access. That’s just one example of how federal law may not apply equally to all 50 states.

Some restrictions apply. Ah, the big one. Just as with the standard disclaimer, this statement is meant to cover a multitude of issues. Let’s talk about immigration as one such. According to US law, asylum is available to persons already in the United States who are seeking protection based on the same five protected grounds upon which refugees rely. They may apply at a port of entry at the time they seek admission or within one year of arriving in the United States. There is no limit on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum in a given year nor are there specific categories for determining who may seek asylum. Refugees are admitted to the United States based upon an inability to return to their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. Refugee numbers are limited to 30,000 this year. Just yesterday (July 15), the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice issued a 58-page asylum rule, specifically centered on the southern border, that would require asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in a third country, such as Mexico or Guatemala. In effect, it ends the separation between asylum and refugee status and makes applying for asylum at ports of entry ineligible. The ACLU plans to contest the rule.

We can argue that children don’t have the mental, physical or ethical capacity to be held to the same standards as adults and we’d be right in most instances. We can argue that state law should hold as much sway as federal law. The lines start getting a bit blurrier here and disappear altogether when we get to some restrictions may apply. When and to whom do they apply and why? Can we argue that there is a benefit to the greater good or are we just stoking fear?

We once aspired to be the shining city on the hill, the beacon of freedom to the world. We never quite got there – the removal of indigenous people, chattel slavery, women’s and LGBTQ discrimination are all examples of how we’ve failed to meet the standard of liberty and justice for all. We’ve always found ways around that lofty goal when it suited us – the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War 2 and now the separation of families at our southern border. Yet despite our shortcomings as a nation, a government and a people, the goal should still be the same.

As the words from the preamble of the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty’s iconic poem tell us, we are meant to be better, to hold ourselves and our government to a higher standard. Let’s remember them:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Resources:

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/15/741769333/u-s-sets-new-asylum-rule-telling-potential-refugees-to-apply-elsewhere

https://americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/how-united-states-immigration-system-works

https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/targeted-regulation-abortion-providers

https://family.findlaw.com/emancipation-of-minors/what-are-the-legal-rights-of-children.html

https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/topics/freedom-of-speech-2/free-speech-on-public-college-campuses-overview/student-newspapers-yearbooks/

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