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Lobster Criminals Unite Conservative Ed Meese and the ACLU

Posted Nov 24, 2009 8:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The transformation of former Attorney General Edwin Meese from a tough-on-crime conservative to an opponent of vague criminal laws highlights an unusual alliance between activists on different sides of the political spectrum.

At one time, Meese called the American Civil Liberties Union part of the “criminals’ lobby.” Now he says he is happy to have help from the group in a fight against overcriminalization in the federal code, the New York Times reports.

“It’s a violation of federal law to give a false weather report,” Meese told the Times. “People get put in jail for importing lobsters.”

The same point is made in a book by civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who argues that federal criminal law is so comprehensive and vague that all Americans violate it every day.

The alliance between business, libertarian, conservative and liberal groups against government intrusion through criminal laws is highlighted in at least a half dozen criminal cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, the story says.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce made a point about overcriminalization in an amicus brief about the federal law governing honest-services fraud, used to prosecute politicians as well as corporate executives. Three cases pending before the Supreme Court deal with the law.

The Times also references these pending Supreme Court cases involving constitutional limits on criminal laws:

--United States v. Comstock, which asks whether convicted sex offenders may continue to be held as dangerous after serving their sentences.

--Alvarez v. Smith, a criminal forfeiture case.

--Briscoe v. Virginia, a confrontation clause case.

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