FromThe Law and Politics Book Review
Vol. 8 No. 10 (October 1998) pp. 376-378.
DRUG HATE AND THE CORRUPTION OF AMERICAN JUSTICE by David Sadofsky Baggins. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998. xii + 185 pp. Cloth $49.95. ISBN 0-0275-95956-8.
Reviewed by Kenneth J. Meier, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drugs may or may not be addictive, but drug books clearly are. If a book review editor asks you to review one, he will not be able to kick the habit. DRUG HATE AND THE CORRUPTION OF AMERICAN JUSTICE is an essay of social commentary rather than a traditional scholarly book. The standard of comparison should be William Bennett, Pat Buchanan and journals such as THE PUBLIC INTEREST rather than Joseph Gusfield, Lester Grinspoon and the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE. Professor Sadofsky Baggins marshals a wide range of news events, popular discourse, court cases and scholarship to present a critical commentary on drug politics from a liberal perspective. He sees an interconnection between issues such as drug use, gay rights, the women's movement, pornography and other issues both in their origins and more importantly in government's response to them. Similar to historian Joseph Gusfield, Sadofsky Baggins sees history as a series of cycles where the forces of liberalization battle those of repression. In his eyes drug wars are crucial because they provide the focal point for conservatives to employ government in quest of their restrictive agenda. Drug wars are popular and justify government intervention into people's private lives; this camel's nose in the tent is seen as opening up the policy sphere for other efforts to restrict abortion, legitimize prayer in the school, marginalize popular music, and crack down on pornography.
The starting point for the argument is the enforcement of drug laws in the United States. Sadofsky Baggins reinforces the conclusions of many scholars of drug policy that drug wars have corrupted police departments and their impact has fallen heaviest on minorities. Those not familiar with racial distributions on arrest rates will find some of the evidence shocking. The idea that drug-related police corruption threatens the legitimacy of all police work is worth considering (p. 5). The corruption in the criminal justice system, he argues, extends into the court system. Examining a series of court cases, he concludes, as many others have, that the Supreme Court now recognizes a drug-law exception to the Fourth Amendment. He then goes further to argue that similar drug-law exceptions have been made in other rights. The court's willingness to accept violations of basic civil rights rather than protecting them corrupts the judiciary in Sadofsky Baggins' eyes.
After documenting his case, Sadofsky Baggins predicts that the cycle of conservative dominance on these social issues will yield to a new cycle of liberalism. His evidence is a follows:
(1) President Clinton lacks the passion of his predecessors for drug repression (although has not reduced spending or as far as we know inhaled);
(2) Both Arizona and California in 1996 passed medical marijuana initiatives;
(3) The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE and others have taken up the medical marijuana cause;
(4) Judges and juries are resisting efforts to obtain drug-related convictions and harsh sentences;
(5) In 1996-97 the Supreme Court began being more protective of individual rights, and
(6) Generation X individuals will soon start voting in greater numbers and their values strongly favor individual liberty.
How convincing this argument is will depend on whether the reader finds the evidence persuasive. In many items such as the Supreme Court becoming more protective of individual rights or the libertarianism of generation X, I suspect that many readers will remain skeptical.
The strongest chapter is on the Supreme Court and the drug-related cases. Sadofsky Baggins again documents the court's general deference to drug-related violations of procedure. At the same time the chapter is incomplete on two counts. Sometimes the court backs off from the more extreme cases, and these are not always mentioned. For example, in a discussion of civil seizures of "drug-related" assets, all the pro-seizure cases are discussed, but he does not reference AUSTIN v UNITED STATES where the court struck down a seizure as a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The second omission is the total focus on Supreme Court cases. The real disregard for individual rights takes place at the trial court and state appeals court levels, the overwhelming bulk of which never reach the U.S. Supreme Court. As Donald Songer's work has demonstrated, state courts often accept the general principle of some individual right but then note why the current case is an exception. In drug cases, this is almost universal.
As a social commentary, the book suffers from a weakness common to the genre, a lack of documentation and citations to the relevant literature. Factual assertions are made and studies are discussed but documentation and references to the original sources are frequently not provided. Examples are as follows:
While all of these statements might be true, the argument would be a great deal more convincing if the author provided the documentation so that the interested reader could check it out.
In his chapter on the symbolic politics of drugs, Sadofsky Baggins makes his crucial argument that a large variety of conservative policies are linked together and essentially provide the basis for a redistributive culture war. The author views politics over the last half century through this lens and interprets politics as a conservative effort to isolate and restrict the influence of minorities, women, liberals, and libertarians. "Orthodox American culture used drug hate to legitimate a war on the unacceptable diversity and deviance in society." (p. x) Although I am not unsympathetic to the interpretation of drug wars as the symbolic redistribution of values, to consciously put a consistent set of such policies together gives politicians far more credit for insight and creativity than most observers can discern. Given the Reagan administration's inability to influence such high priority items as regulatory relief (temporary gains were made but the base laws remained unchanged), abortion, school prayer, and the size of the federal government (approximately 10 percent larger in 1989 than in 1981), why would anyone conclude the war on drugs was part of a brilliant plan?
Will book be of use to the readers of this review? Yes, if you do not have knowledge of
the drug-related individual rights cases or the impact of drug wars on police corruption, you can swipe a lecture from the book. Can the book be used in class? Yes, it could work as a sort of counter-point to William Bennett or similar conservative arguments in an undergraduate policy class. I would recommend our library order the book, but I would not buy it myself.