Bob Goodlatte

I didn’t go to Eric Holder’s big speech at the ABA annual meeting on Monday. I kind of halfheartedly tried to go, but there were a lot of people who wanted to see Holder say something they could’ve read about online hours earlier.

If the ABA had invited Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over to speak about the horrendous abuse of federal funds by purveyors of higher education, I’d have smashed my way in. But in the crush of people trying to get a look at the Attorney General trying to dismantle a big part of the United States “War On Drugs,” I was reminded that regulating legal education is a small part of what the ABA does — and a part that isn’t of great institutional importance to the organization. The ABA wants a seat at the policy table when it comes to big sexy issues of justice and legal services. Preventing member institutions from price-gouging young people doesn’t get its logo splashed across all the major news networks.

So, Eric Holder delivered a big policy address. And later, by which point I was on a plane, Hillary Clinton spoke about how she’ll be speaking about other things as she doesn’t run for president just yet. Holder! Hillary! Marvel at the ABA’s relevance in national policy debates!

Except, they’re not relevant. Holder did make an important speech on Monday, and he couldn’t have found a more supportive group for his take-down of mandatory minimums had he been speaking to potheads in Golden Gate Park. But really, the ABA isn’t going to be any more helpful when it comes to actually convincing Congress than a meeting of the 4:20 club…

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“But they aren’t all valedictorians, they weren’t all brought by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian there’s another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

– Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), referring to DREAM Act beneficiaries last week.

Say what you will about Congressman King, he had the cojones to appear on the Univision show “Al Punto con Jorge Ramos” this week, an unusual move for an outspoken opponent of immigration reform.

While King was busy pointing out that kids can be drug mules, the rest of the House of Representatives has been debating proposed legislation called the KIDS Act, a variation on the Senate’s DREAM Act. “DREAM” is an acronym for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” (not to be confused with alien miners, which could be the premise for a Ridley Scott movie). The Act and its equivalent in the House would provide eligibility for a six-year-long conditional path to citizenship for qualifying young people whose parents brought them to the United States illegally.

The basic idea enjoys some bipartisan support, even if shakily so. Let’s agree, if only for the sake of argument, that this simple goal is a good one. Nevertheless, the DREAM Act and its progeny don’t work, and they distract lawmakers from the larger, more consequential immigration debate….

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