House Members Introduce Legislation To Punish States With “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva introduced a bill yesterday that would amend the House appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science to add a provision punishing states with “Stand Your Ground” laws — the law at the heart of the trial of George Zimmerman in Florida. While I have been a long critic of both Castle Doctrine laws and “Stand Your Ground” laws, I believe this bill is a mistake and represents an attack on federalism principles.

The bill proposes the following amendment:

Page 44, line 6, insert before the semicolon the following: “Provided, That upon a determination by the Attorney General that a State has in effect a law allowing an armed person to confront an unarmed person in public and shoot to kill even if the confrontation could have been safely avoided, the Attorney General shall withhold 20 percent of the amount that would otherwise be allocated to that State under section 505 of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 3755).”

It has become customary for Congress to raise some taxes for the sole purpose of giving the money back to the states with conditions or strings attached. I have also been a critic of this practice as inimical to federalism. This issue is before the Supreme Court in the health care litigation. One of the issues is whether Congress can coerce states into doing what it wants by withholding federal funds. The Court has upheld such conditions in cases like South Dakota v. Dole, which withheld highway funds to states that did not raise their legal drinking age to 21. The Court has long maintained that such conditional funds can violated the Constitution if they amount to compulsion.

These funds are clearly not so great as to amount to unconstitutional compulsion. However, I still believe that it is a bad practice for Congress to force states to adhere to its demands as to state laws. This is an area that is traditionally left to the states. States are allowed to pursue their own policies and priorities in crafting such laws. Indeed, Florida is considering repealing or reforming the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Despite the best motivations, this amendment intrudes upon the rights of citizens of each state to make these decisions for themselves.

Source: Politico

27 thoughts on “House Members Introduce Legislation To Punish States With “Stand Your Ground” Laws”

  1. Dredd,

    Fox News host Kirsten Powers even confronted Peterson about his “mysogynistic” speech and challenged Hannity to repudiate it, but the Republican opinion host did not, and instead gave Peterson a platform to denounce “liberal, women policies.”


    Who do you think caused prohibition? Bible thumping church ladies.

  2. One would think the states had more sense than to pass these laws that are then interpreted to give people the right to shoot anyone they may think is threatening.
    The way these laws are interpreted, by the police and by the citizens of that state, puts everyone in danger. And from what I have read, the law does not help the people it should help! A woman is looking at 10 years mandatory for firing her gun into the ceiling to scare off her abusive husband who stated he was going to kill her. She did not get any legal relief from this law. Why is that?
    Why do these laws seem to help the wrong people & wrong situations and not the people who do seem to qualify?

  3. It is an amendment to an appropriations bill. It has to do with JAG funding. In order for a state to receive the federal funds the stand your ground law would need to be repealed.

  4. The proposed legislation is a bad idea for both political and policy reasons. It is bad policy because it intrudes on the traditional role of the states in defining and punishing crimes. It is bad politics because it will never get out of committee and provides substance for the argument that progressives want to federalize all governmental functions. It will likely also have the effect of hardening state legislative resistance to changes in “stand your ground” laws. I frankly thought that Rep. Ellison and Rep. Grijalva had more sense than this.

  5. “Politicians who advocate rubric about “States Rights” (usually with an exclamation point!) are pandering to the slave power wannabes. ”

    Unless we’re talking medical marijuana, gay marriage, universal health care, and then politicians who vote against States Rights are right wing neandertals pandering to the 1%.

  6. I agree, Mike Spindell. The problem is that whenever a rotten situation comes to light, a bunch of people drum up side issues to chase so they can simultaneously (a) appear to fix problems when they are not even addressing the real problem; and (b) profit from a bad thing and advance their own irrelevant causes. In the past, when I was an activist, and I would see this kind of thing happen, I would try to identify it for my colleagues and they would shout me down with advice like, “At least it raises consciousness.” No it does NOT. It wastes resources, contributes to people’s horribly fuzzy thinking about how to respond to real crises, and marginalizes REAL people trying to make REAL progress in solving REAL problems and addressing REAL issues.

  7. This proposed law is a silly attempt to capitalize on a potentially grievous act, whose truth has yet to be settled in court. Bad idea and a mistaken effort that does no good for its’ cause.

  8. That one Congressman does not practice what he preaches. You cannot be against Stand Your Ground and then advocate taking the fight to them:

    From the NY Times:

    The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Thursday that the administration spent “zero” time worrying about whether Republicans in Congress are showing the president the respect that the office deserves. “You guys care much more about this than we do,” he scolded reporters who asked about the relationship between Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans.

    The president himself eschews making things personal, so his aides follow suit — at least when it comes to any hint that his critics’ attacks are for reasons other than his policies.

    There is the persistent and deeply uncomfortable question of race. Many African-Americans, including black lawmakers, and even white Democrats, have complained that some of the disrespect for Mr. Obama stems from distaste among some whites at the idea of seeing a black man in the Oval Office.

    “I think people want to not deal with that issue,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona. “But I think, like it or not, some of the disrespect — and I stress some, not all — stems from the discomfort of having a person of color be president of the United States.”

    Many Republican members “don’t respect him,” Mr. Grijalva said, adding, “Not even in our worst days as Democrats did we demean and attempt to cripple the office of president.”

    Mr. Grijalva and Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota have sent a letter pressing Mr. Obama to be “bold” in his address to Congress on Thursday on job creation and the economy.

    It has been frustrating, especially to the more liberal corners of the Democratic Party, including Mr. Grijalva, that Mr. Obama has not taken on his opponents more forcefully. “I support him,” he said of Mr. Obama, “but he has got to take the fight to them.”

    But White House officials, echoing their boss’s aversion to suggestions of racism, never play that card, not even in private conversations with reporters.

    One administration official said that Mr. Obama “made it clear” when he came into office “that there wouldn’t be people crying wolf on race every day.”

    Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

    Regarding States Rights and the Southern Strategy of the RepubliCon Party to garner the bigot vote in the South: States Rights does not appear in the Constitution as the code word guys preach. The federal government and the state governments are afforded “powers”. People are accorded “Rights”. Neither the federal government nor the states may trample people’s rights. To term the disputes between the states and the feds as States Rights or in that dichotomy is pure Lee Atwater. You alll know who Lee Atwater is. If not Google him and the words Southern Strategy. Rickyboy Perry from Texas knows what I am barking about here.

  9. BarkinDog, states have “rights” vis a vis the federal government. “Powers” are downward, affecting the interactions of enteties regarding those under them, while “rights” are upward, affecting the interactions of enteties regarding those above them. Since the states in this nation are lower in the heirarchy than the federal government, they have “rights” with respect to the federal government.

  10. “Castle laws” referred to by Jonathan Turley is a nominclature for laws which purport to allow one to use force and deadly force to protect self and property within one’s home, or sometimes extended to other real property. I am reminded of the videos of the guys on the roofs of their stores in Los Angelos during the Rodney King riots when the cops went south and the property owners were left to fend for themselves. I dont recall anyone criticizing them for exhibiting deadly force to keep the arsonists away. The blog here does not say where these two Congressmen are from. If they are in South LA and they need to keep their officies from being burned or their homes they might need more than the LA cops.

  11. For her H.S. government class, my daughter included on her list of types of law the following two:

    1.Purse strings — applicable to our present discussion

    2. Checklists — her point being, it doesn’t matter what the statutes and regulations require, you’er not getting that license or permit unless you provide whatever is necessary to get all those boxes ticked off on that checklist.

  12. States have powers, not rights. People have rights. Never the Twain shall meet–even in Hannibal. Politicians who advocate rubric about “States Rights” (usually with an exclamation point!) are pandering to the slave power wannabes. States Rights are the code words for the Southern Strategy of teh RepubliCon Party. A politician seeks out the little bigot in people and speaks the code words. Here, however, the horse is rode in on by different folks for some wrong reasons. I doubt, for example, that any stand your ground laws have the language cited in the proposal:

    :…a State has in effect a law allowing an armed person to confront an unarmed person in public and shoot to kill even if the confrontation could have been safely avoided”

    Take for example the following: I am about to get into my car, and I am unloading a shopping cart on a desolate parking lot at the JC Pennys at 9 p.m. A bloke rides up on a bicycle, gets off and starts jabbering at me to loan him some money so he can get a square meal. I say no. He pulls a club and starts in my direction and is fifteen feet away.
    Questions: Do I have to abandon my bag of fruit and watermelon and run? Thus leaving that and my unlocked car behind. Can I pull my pistol and say “Back off, Jackoff!”

    Now, under the language above I could have safely avoided the confrontation had I not gone to theJC Peenys at 9 pm and stayed in a safe neighborhood, well away from any unsafte people. One way of putting it is to stay the hell away from “bad guys ground”. I could avoid the confrontation by jumping into my car and abandoning my fruit and watermelon and driving off, toute suite. I could abandon my open car and run like hell with my back to the schmuck with the shopping cart. I could stand my ground without pulling my 9mm at 9p.m. at the 9th quadrant of the JC Penny lot on the 9th day of the 9th month and get clubbed to death.

    What is an unarmed person? When does one know the person is unarmed? Why cannot I defend my 65 year old self against the 18 year old green giant with his club? Is his club characterized as being armed? Do I have to look up the annotations to the state stature to get the definition of “unarmed” while I make my decision to stand my ground and pull the pistola?

    The authors of this bill are not clearly thinking. Tell them to send mom and pop out to the JC Penny parking lot at Nine at night in the bad part of their legislative district.

    I would hazard that the definition cited above from their bill does not fit the laws of stand your ground that have been enacted. The words: ..”even if the confrontation could have been safely avoided.” probably do not appear in any “stand your ground statutes” or such statutes probably do not offend that language.

    In the Zimmerman case we do not know that Z chased the person down, confronted him, and thence fought. We do know that the incident occured in “public” but we also know that it was within a so called “closed community”. Hey, my condo units have a fence around them but they are public.

    A “stand your ground statute” is a provision which codifies common law notions of self defense. And, if not that then: common sense definition of lawful self defense in public places. The Congressmen should be admonished to know that they employ cops, security guards, and they themselves are armed when they busy themselves about the public grounds of the capitol. Are those cops, security guards, or armed Congressmen going to drop the brief case and run when they spy a kid with a flower pot approaching their person when out on the parking lot?

    These Congressmen need to be howled at by their constituents.


  13. I do not understand why the Federal Government wants to control every aspect of states or human activity. What is their reason? Its not like any one group or person wants to rule America. Our president and congress come and go so whats the point of trying to gain power and control?

  14. Swarthmore mom 1, May 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

    These guys are members of the democratic progressive caucus. Alan West called them “communists”. Dredd is correct in saying that it will go nowhere. In any case, they have opened up a discussion……..
    This ideology would have a better go of it in the current House:

    “I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote,” Peterson says. “We should’ve never turned this over to women. And these women are voting in the wrong people. They’re voting in people who are evil who agrees with them who’re gonna take us down this pathway of destruction.”

    “And this probably was the reason they didn’t allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman,” he adds. “They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen.”

    Peterson, founder of the conservative religious group Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny (BOND), appeared on the Fox News Channel on May 1, more than a month after giving his controversial sermon. Fox News host Kirsten Powers even confronted Peterson about his “mysogynistic” speech and challenged Hannity to repudiate it, but the Republican opinion host did not, and instead gave Peterson a platform to denounce “liberal, women policies.”

    (Daily Kos). Extremism is typical in declining empires, running neck and neck with denialism.

  15. These guys are members of the democratic progressive caucus. Alan West called them “communists”. Dredd is correct in saying that it will go nowhere. In any case, they have opened up a discussion……..

  16. What has happened to those proponents of states rights…… A little to much legislation here……

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