According to the "Christian Science Monitor" (February 13, 1990), many delegates at the February meeting of the American Bar Association believe that the "war on drugs" has placed a crushing burden on the Federal Courts, which the system simply cannot bear. Because drug cases now account for 44 per cent of all criminal cases and 50 per cent of all criminal appeals, ABA President Stanley Chauvin estimated that it now takes 3 to 5 years to bring a civil case to trial, and the delays will steadily increase as more and more drug cases clog the system.
A 15-member ABA panel recommended that more drug cases should be taken out of the Federal system and turned over to State courts. By coincidence or synchronicity or something, the same day a State Supreme Court judge pointed out that the States simply cannot take on this additional burden. California Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas in a State of the Judiciary address to the legislature indicated that drug cases "are swamping the courts. The system has begun to take on so much water we are close to foundering. Too often, civil cases get drowned."
Justice Lucas was especially concerned that the increasing delay in hearing civil suits has long postponed important cases "that affect the environment, civil rights and other important aspects of our lives." ("Los Angeles Times" February 13, 1990.)
The Bush administration ignores these warnings. The "war on drugs" continues to escalate, with more and more of the Bill of Rights getting trashed every month.
By May 23, 1990, according to the "LA Times" of that day, the State Judicial Council of California complained that the problem had gotten ever worse.
Noting that drug cases by now make up 60 to 65% of all criminal prosecutions and "drug-related" cases make an additional 20%, the SJC expressed "serious alarm" at the growing backlog of civil cases indefinitely postponed. They also pointed out, as an ominous symptom of things to come, that San Diego ceased to hear civil cases at all for one month recently, to catch up on the drug overload. William E. Davis, state administrative director of courts, commented, additionally, that the only reason the system has not broken down yet is that most cases are plea-bargained and never come to trial. "I hate to say it," Davis told the press, "but if even 1% or so started going to trial instead of pleading, we couldn't sustain it."
The Bush administration, of course, still pays no attention to such warnings and continues the war. Whatever George and his friends lack in common sense, they make up in machismo. More and more distinguished voices are speaking out, calling for an end to a war that can't be won. Conservative columnist William F. Buckeley. Mayor Kurt Schoke of Baltimore (a former Federal prosecutor.) Astronomer/TV star Dr. Carl Sagan. Former NY police commissioner Patrick Murphy. Judge Robert Sweet. Former Secretary of StateÊ George Shultz. Etc etc. As Peter Reuter of RAND said ("LA Times" November 20, 1989), "There is an enormous closet elite interest in legalization....(T)his is theÊ central question they (intellectuals) want to discuss."
Of course, since Congress shares Bush's abject submission to mob prejudice as the guide to all political questions, the voices of the intellectuals will have no more effect than the voices of the judiciary. We seem to be stuck with the War for a long, long time yet, before any change can occur.
Or are we? In 22 states there are organized movements fighting for a new Constitutional Amendment, called FIJA, which can stop the "war on drugs" and every other idiocy or tyranny that Washington tries to impose on us.
FIJA means Fully Informed Jurors Amendment. It would order all judges, in all 50 states, to inform jurors that they have the right to acquit in any case, whatever the proven facts, if they disapprove of the law.
This means also that a single juror can hang the jury and force a mistrial if she or he sincerely considers the law a bad law. American (and English) juries have always had this right, but judges are usually loathe to tell the jurors this, and only Maryland has an article in its Constitution obliging judges to tell jurors they have this right of nullification.
This right was written into Magna Carta and built into our own system because our ancestors understood that it takes a long time to pressure a government into changing a bad law. Jury nullification guarantees that no law can be enforced if 12 people selected at random -- a cross section of the community -- cannot all agree that it is a good law, or that people should be punished for breaking it.
Frankly, with the Supreme Court moving more and more to the Authoritarian Right Wing, I think the fully informed jury is the last hope we have for preserving any of the Bill of Rights. In a sense, it doesn't even matter if the FIJAmendment gets beyond 22 states and accumulates enough support to become the law of the land. It is moving along well enough, now, that it will of its own momentum move further and faster, which means that more and more jurors now know, whether the judge tells them or not, that they can nullify any law they find tyrannous, repugnant, against their individual conscience, or just plain idiotic (like e.g. the anti-pot law.) The greater the number of prospective jurors who know that, the sooner we will get rid of the "war on drugs" and all the other gross and petty tyrannies imposed on us by the Bombs-and-Jesus crowd who have ruled this country for most of the past two decades.
If you want to know more about FIJA, write to FIJA, PO Box 59, Helmville, Montana 58843.