Michigan House panel considers ban on mobile phone use while driving

Other writers: Is Donald Trump hurting the GOP?

Other Writers

Is the game rigged for prosecutors?

Steven Greenhut in Reason: One of California’s most prominent federal judges, Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit court of appeals, has sparked a nationwide debate about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system with a recent 42-page jeremiad in the Georgetown Law Review.

The article depicts a system that tilts heavily in favor of district attorneys, incarcerates thousands of innocent people and fails to hold accountable prosecutors who abuse their power.

The judge’s piece challenges many of our fundamental assumptions about the justice system.

It is a compelling and important read — especially as legislatures around the country wrestles with issues of prison overcrowding, police reform, changes to civil-asset forfeiture laws, police body camera bills and the like.

“Police investigators have vast discretion about what leads to pursue, which witnesses to interview, what forensic tests to conduct and countless other aspects of the investigation,” Kozinski wrote. “Police also have a unique opportunity to manufacture or destroy evidence, influence witnesses, extract confessions and otherwise direct the investigation so as to stack the deck against people they believe should be convicted.” Wow.

A recent admission by an elite FBI forensic unit “gave flawed testimony in almost all (of the 268) trials” it testified in over two decades, according to an article he quoted. “How can you trust the professionalism and objectivity of police anywhere after an admission like that?” Kozinski asked.

By the way, Kozinski is no liberal and was appointed to the court in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan. Yet he blames the nation’s incarceration rates — far higher than any other industrialized nation, and far beyond the rates in authoritarian China — on a “war on drugs” (that ramped up during the Reagan era), along with mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws.

The judge is dismayed at the unwillingness of the system to examine credible allegations of wrongful convictions.

Those inmates — 125 nationwide in 2014 — who have been exonerated largely because of the Innocence Project are the rare “lucky” ones where clear evidence still exists, he argued. But it’s often a tough road.

He argues that Americans accept some truths that might not be so true: eyewitnesses are reliable, fingerprint evidence is unassailable, witness memories are reliable, prosecutors play fair, confessions are infallible, and guilty pleas always mean guilt.

Donald Trump is the GOP’s karma

Timothy Egan in the New York Times: The adults patrolling the playpen of Republican politics are appalled that we’ve become a society where it’s OK to make fun of veterans, to call anyone who isn’t rich a loser, to cast an entire group of newly arrived strivers as rapists and shiftless criminals.

Somewhere, we crossed a line — from our mothers’ modesty to strutting braggadocio, from dutiful decorum to smashing all the china in the room, from respecting a base set of facts to a trumpeting of willful ignorance.

Yes, how did we get to a point where up to one-fourth of the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan now aligns itself with Donald Trump? Those same political marshals would have us believe he’s a “demagogue,” a “jackass,” a “cancer.”

They say he’s trashing the Republic brand. They say he’s “stirring up the crazies,” in the words of Senator John McCain. But Trump is the brand, to a sizable degree. And the crazies have long flourished in the Republican media wing, where any amount of gaseous buffoonery goes unchallenged.

It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Millennials opt out of voting

Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post: Millennials have claimed for themselves yet another generational superlative: least likely to vote.

A new report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University finds that, in 2014, youth voter turnout fell to its lowest level on record. Just 19.9 percent of 18- to 29-year-old citizens cast ballots last fall, compared with an average of 26.6 percent for the same age range in other midterm elections over the previous 40 years.

One common narrative is that in 2008, young people got overly psyched about the potential for Hope and Change. Then, when they inevitably became disillusioned by hopeless and changeless Washington, disgusted millennials checked out of America’s political system.

In polls, millennials say they trust almost no authority figure to do the right thing most or all of the time: not Congress, not the president, not the Supreme Court, not the media, not Wall Street and definitely not federal, state or local government. Only a third of young people say their vote will “make a difference” anyway, according to the latest Harvard Institute of Politics youth poll.