6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On
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They rode into power on a wave of conservative populism, vowing to rein in spending, slash deficits (remember how the Tea Partiers swore they weren't focusing on those “wedge” social issues anymore?), and above all, restore our fealty to the Constitution, a document they claim to hold an almost religious reverence for.
Then, in a development as easy to predict as the sun rising in the east, they set themselves to passing outrageous legislation designed to appeal to their far-right base – much of it legislation that, on its face, is blatantly unconstitutional. And passing gimmicky, unconstitutional laws isn't free – under federal law, states can be ordered to pay the fees of the lawyers who bring winning civil rights suits against them, so they usually end up picking up the tab for both sides of the litigation when they lose.
Arizona has already spent $1.5 million defending SB 1070, the so-called "papers, please" law, but with several suits ongoing, that's just the beginning. According to the Arizona Capital Times, "more than 251 attorneys have worked on more than a half dozen lawsuits against the bill, and the federal courts hearing the cases have received more than 2,000 filings and 56 amicus briefs." Arizona may face a huge legal bill at the end of the road, but the good news for Governor Jan Brewer is that anti-immigration hardliners across the country have donated millions to a special fund to help defray the state's costs.
But that's not the case in South Dakota, which had raised less than $20,000 through the end of March for a similar fund to defend its latest abortion restrictions, according to the Rapid City Journal. The state's Attorney General estimated that defending the law could cost South Dakota up to $4.1 million if it loses, including $1.7 million in legal fees for Planned Parenthood. That's nothing new; according to RH Reality Check, "the state is still in the process of defending its last unconstitutional anti-abortion bill...The 2005 law, which is still being heard in the 8th circuit, has currently run up $1.7 million just in attorney’s fees for Planned Parenthood..."
The costs of violating citizens' rights can really add up. And yet, after promising to slash government spending, conservatives in a dozen state houses across the country are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court. In some cases, they believe they might get an activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn decades of precedent and support their laws, but in others they're simply prepared to waste millions of tax dollars to litigate wacky legislation that has zero chance of being upheld.
Here then are six seemingly unconstitutional state laws proposed or passed in recent months. You might want to don a tricorner hat while enjoying them.
1. Anti-Sharia Laws
According to Mother Jones , five states have banned “Sharia law” and another 11 (!) are “working on it.” Aside from the fact that, for the non-crazy among us, there is no discrete legal code known as Sharia law, the other problems with these measures are the establishment and free exercise clauses of the 1 st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
There are various schools of Sharia, but all represent a code of personal conduct followed by Muslims. That makes it extra sticky to define a “Sharia organization,” as evidenced by a proposal in Tennessee that would have criminalized two or more Muslims joining together for prayers. After coming under ridicule in the national media, Adam Serwer reports that the bill's sponsors “altered” their proposal, “eliminating all references to sharia from the bill.” It is now, ostensibly, an “anti-terrorism” measure, which, according to Serwer, remains just as constitutionally sketchy.