On the way to work this morning-after-election day, I heard a great deal of talk on the radio about “mandates.” Pacific Legal Foundation has a mandate to serve the interest of liberty from coast to coast, and the PLF Atlantic Center office follows-through on the mandate by representing clients in disputes with the government all up and down the eastern seaboard. This week, two of our cases are in the news.
First, you may recall that PLF challenged a “For Sale” sign ban in the City of Alexandria, Virginia two weeks ago, on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment; the City quickly suspended the law upon learning of the lawsuit. This week, David Hickey, a Vice-President of the International Sign Association, explained in the pages of the Washington Post that PLF correctly challenged the sign ban, as the law at issue was likely unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, just across the Potomac River from Alexandria, the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., heard oral argument today in the case of John Yates v. United States. PLF filed its amicus brief on behalf of several commercial fishing associations earlier this year. In that brief, PLF opposes the federal government’s effort to turn a regulatory fishing law violation into a federal white-collar crime with a potential 20-year prison sentence.
Greenwire, which focuses on energy and environmental news, reported on the case this week. In the report, Greenwire emphasized that the case is a good example of how the federal government has overreached in expanding the federal criminal laws in ways that Congress never intended. As I commented for the story:
“Here you have what is at most, it would seem to be, an administrative or regulatory issue,” said Miller, who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of his foundation and several fishing associations. “Sort of inexplicably, the federal government decided to turn a regulatory minor fine into a federal prosecution involving a law for white-collar criminals.”
The executive branch of the federal government rarely turns down an opportunity to expand its power. We hope the Supreme Court uses this case to remind the federal government that its discretion in enforcing the laws on the books is subject to limits.