Thursday, February 4, 2016

President Obama Should Veto "International Megan's Law"

Dear President Obama,

Please veto H.R. 515, "International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders", when it reaches your desk.

In every era, there are groups upon which the broader public heaps its particular scorn. Sex offenders are not a racial, ethnic, or religious group; they are united only by their crime. And yet despite their crimes, they remain American citizens who are still deserving of basic freedoms and the second chance offered all prisoners at the conclusion of their sentence.

Modern America has chosen sex offenders--and who could be more deserving?--as one of the targets of this era, but our policy is often reactionary and driven more by fear than good sense. Recidivism rates of sex offenders are exceedingly low, but we act as if they were high. And the "sex tourism" threat this bill purports to end is something the State Department already has policies in place to deal with. In short, there is no policy-related need for this bill.

Also, due to the baby-and-bathwater nature of many modern sex laws, some "sex offenders" are teenagers who sent each other nude pictures, or statutory rapists who were genuinely unaware of their partner's age, or other innocent people tarred for life with the "sex offender" brush even when it contravenes all logic and good sense.

The bipartisan legislative consensus behind this law appears to be driven not by serious consideration of policy, but by carrot-and-stick incentives: no one wants to be seen being soft on sex offenders, and everyone wants to say that they 'kept our communities safer' by striking another blow against the evils of sex offenders. This is an awful way to make any law.

Mr. President, threats to everyone's liberty do not walk up to the front door and introduce themselves as such. They are, without exception, cloaked in reasonable language to deal with nebulous dangers. And in the long term, they set precedents--this would be the first-ever special designation of an American citizen on a passport--that could one day be turned against broader and less deserving sections of the American people. Imagine your successor building on this law to require a special designation for Muslims, for example, or for political dissidents. This policy is not worth that risk.

Please veto H.R. 515.