My opinions on crime are very straightforward.
- Have very few laws, mostly at the state level, with the goal of protecting life, liberty, and property.
- Have strong constitutional and procedural protectionsfor the rights of the accused.
- To alter the cost-benefit calculations of bad people, impose serious punishment on those convicted.
But I sometimes come across an incident that challenges these principles.
Let’s look at a horrible story from Michigan about girls being genitally mutilated.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested in April 2017 and accused of leading a criminal conspiracy that involved multiple doctors and resulted in the mutilation of nine girls over the course of twelve years. The practice, which is universally recognized as a gross violation of human rights, is traditional among the Dawoodi Bohra, the Muslim sect to which Nagarwala and his co-conspirators belong.
My visceral instinct is for some tit-for-tat justice. The so-called doctors should receive equivalent treatment, without the benefit of anesthesia.
Since that’s not an option, a very lengthy prison sentence could be the next-best alternative.
But something very unusual happened. The barbaric doctors had been charged by the federal government based on a federal law against genital mutilation, and a judge decided that the statute exceeded the proper powers of the federal government.
A federal judge dismissed charges Tuesday against several Michigan doctors accused of mutilating the genitals of numerous underage girls, ruling that the federal prohibition against the practice is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman argued that the 22-year-old federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM), which went unused until last year, constitutes federal overreach. …the judge’s ruling entirely clears four defendants in the case, including three mothers who allegedly handed their underage daughters over to Nagarwala to be mutilated.
This is a quandary.
I want the “doctors” to be thrown under the jail, yet part of me is very happy that a federal judge actually acknowledges that the Constitution imposes some limitson federal power.
Too bad Judge Friedman wasn’t sitting in for Justice John Roberts when the Obamacare case was (wrongly) decided.
Anyhow, here’s what has since happened.
In response to the case, Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed new laws prohibiting the practice of FGM, but as those laws applied only to future violations, the defendants in this case were charged under the old federal statute. Twenty-three other states, however, do not have laws banning the practice, leading critics of the judge’s ruling to suggest that parents intent on mutilating their daughters for religious purposes will simply travel to states where they can do so legally.
I have a couple of concluding thoughts.
First, I imagine that all 50 states – even crazy California – will pass laws against this barbaric ritual. So there’s no reason to relax my strong support for federalism.
In conclusion, I’m not under the illusion that any system will deliver perfect justice. But I do think we would get the best-possible outcomes if we adhered to constitutional principles and restricted the size and scope of the federal government.