The Unintended Costs of Bi-Partisanship : Updated!!!
[Note: When the linked Daily Beast article as originally published Sunday morning, they published an early and greatly reduced version. It appears this was by mistake; the longer final filing is now up. I’m noting this here because I put a few paragraphs written but not originally published at the Beast in the post below, which I have now revised to be quoted from that piece. Apologies to everyone for the brief and unintended self-plagiarism that occurred as a result.
Also, if you read the linked article earlier I want to encourage you to go back and read the “final” filing that is now up at the Beast. It’s longer and far more comprehensive; it’s also — I think, anyway — far superior to the incorrectly posted article you might have read earlier.]
Or at least, that’s how the assignment began. As I began researching the story, however, I discovered that the system we have in place for dealing with post-incarcerated sex offenders is shockingly cruel to those who no longer pose a credible threat to society and ridiculously ineffective for those who might. Much of the technical blame can be pinned on two famous bodies of legislation: Megan’s Laws and the Adam Walsh Act.
A point that was not within the scope of the Beast article, however, seems at home and worth noting here at OT: much of the reason we have these horrific and ineffective laws is due to the politics that goes into bipartisan agreements.
Maybe the best way to illustrate this point is looking at the passing of the federal law that currently dictates all state sex-offender laws, the Adam Walsh Act. As I said at the Beast,
In 2006 the Bush administration was looking for a win. The White House was still reeling from the public’s outrage over its handling of Hurricane Katrina as well as dissatisfaction over the Iraq War. As the mid-term elections loomed, the Adam Walsh Act seemed a possible political tonic. Sponsored by Wisconsin congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the bill’s real champion and public face was John Walsh, host and creator of the television show America’s Most Wanted. The bill itself was named after Walsh’s son Adam, who had been murdered by a sexual predator in 1981. As a subsequent 2009 study from Harvard notes, cable news gave Walsh a forum to declare “war” on sexual predators via the bill, as “Fox news personalities Sean Hannity, Sean Colmes, and Bill O’Reilly offered their support” on air — as did, it should be noted, hosts from MSNBC and CNN.
The funny thing is, though, that even in 2006 we already knew the provisions contained in the bill wouldn’t work. By that point we already had a ton of data on the state-passed Megan’s Laws, from which much of the Adam Walsh Act is pilfered. Almost all of that data that showed that at best Megan’s Laws was ineffective and at worst it made put our communities and our children in greater danger. Everyone involved in passing Adam Walsh — legislators, lobbyists, staff, the White House, and the press alike — either should have known this. Most probably did.
However, Republicans saw the bill as a political opportunity to present a no-win choice for their opponents across the aisle: Democrats could either vocally and enthusiastically support the legislative feather in the President’s cap or risk being seen as pro-sex-offender come November. The Democrats chose the former. Despite the massive, growing pile of data that suggested the Adam Walsh Act might be ineffective and potentially even dangerous legislation, no debate or opposing testimony was given in either the House or the Senate. In both chambers the bill passed on a unanimous voice vote. On July 27 President Bush signed the bill into law on the White House lawn in a huge public ceremony– one of the largest and most covered events at the White House that summer.
One last piece of dark irony in this story is this:
Adam Walsh, the murdered child whose memory pundits and legislators rallied around and for who the law was named? He was murdered by a serial killer who had not previously been a suspect in any of his murders. The Adam Walsh Act — which specifically addresses sex offenders who are released from incarceration — would not have mattered a tinker’s cuss to Adam Walsh had it been passed years before his birth.
[Picture: John Boehner smooches Nancy Pelosi. Still shot of C-Span video.]