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Good, bad, and ugly
The state legislature does some good. The Red Sox’ plan to close off Yawkey Way gets worse. Plus, the US military bullies Harvard Law School.

WE DON’T OFTEN have much to say about the state legislature that’s good. But this week is an exception. Last week it passed a supplemental budget overriding a line-item veto of funding for the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission by Governor Jane Swift. Swift’s veto would have immediately saved the state $232,000 by eliminating all funding for the commission. But it would have cost millions in the long run.

The sentencing commission was formed in 1994 to come up with a comprehensive set of sentencing guidelines for the state’s judges. It spent two years compiling a detailed database with information on every criminal convicted in the state since 1994, as well as the sentences doled out for every statutory crime that carries a possible punishment of imprisonment. The commission used this information to come up with a set of guidelines recommending minimum and maximum sentences based on the crime committed and a defendant’s prior record. The same year the commission filed a bill on Beacon Hill that would have enacted its recommendations, which also required judges sentencing outside of the recommendations to put their reasons for doing so in writing. (See "Costly Rhetoric," News and Features, August 23.)

To date, the guidelines have yet to be passed into law. It’s no surprise: we live in a law-and-order culture infatuated with simplistic formulas for justice, including mandatory sentencing, three-strikes-and-you’re out rules, and prisoner chain gangs. For the most part, state reps and senators angry that the guidelines reduce sentences for drug offenses, typically the least violent of crimes, have blocked the bill’s passage. Nevertheless, the commission continues to do good work. Twice last year it provided cost analyses of lock-’em-up proposals by the legislature and Swift. It found that a knee-jerk proposal by House minority leader Fran Marini would have increased the already overburdened state-prison population by 3631 prisoners, at an annual cost of $35,000 per prisoner. Another proposal by Swift would have increased the prison population by 8667.

The legislature hasn’t passed the commission’s bill yet. But at least it has recognized the need for the important work the commission does.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the Red Sox’ plan to close off Yawkey Way on game day to ticket holders and Sox-approved vendors is a bad idea. (See "The Sox, the Globe, and the Rest of Us," Editorial, August 8.)

Latest example? Vendor Michael Rutstein, who sells Boston Baseball outside the park on game days, will effectively see his right to free speech squashed. Preventing the sale of a publication on public property is a prima facie example of the repression of free speech. One thing that’s been made clear in the battle to overturn a ban on news boxes by the Back Bay Architectural Commission, is that the commission wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if publishers replaced their news boxes with newsboys and -girls — the modern equivalent of the town crier — hawking their papers. And that’s exactly what Rutstein does. Clearly, the Sox have no right to prevent Rutstein from selling his magazine on a public street.

They have no right to do this even if the mayor thinks it’s a good idea. The city’s attorney, Merita Hopkins, told the Boston Globe: "The process we’ve put in place has really ensured that everyone’s interests have been taken into consideration." And Mayor Menino — who actually describes vendors as "content" with the plan, though nothing could be further from the truth since many will lose their livelihoods if the Sox’ plan is implemented — enthused: "I think in the long run they’ll be better off." Rutstein, who filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court last week seeking to block the plan, obviously disagrees.

So do we.

Is there anyone out there who still believes there would have been no difference between a Bush administration and one headed by Al Gore? How about this latest example of bullying from the Bushies. On Monday, Harvard Law School dean Robert C. Clark announced that the school would end its long-standing prohibition against military recruiting at the law school. In 1998, the Air Force asked Harvard to show that it was in compliance with the Solomon Amendment, a 1996 law that allows the federal government to withhold funds from schools that don’t allow the US armed forces to recruit on campus. The law school was able to show that its alumni group invites the armed forces for campus recruiting. So while the school itself banned the military, the armed forces were technically able to recruit at the law school.

Last December, after Congress strengthened provisions of the Solomon Amendment, the Air Force again asked Harvard to show that it was in compliance. The school responded with the same information. But in May, the Air Force notified Clark that the law school was no longer considered in compliance. At stake was $328 million in federal funds — or 16 percent of Harvard University’s operating budget.

The school had no choice but to acquiesce. "Harvard University, one of the nation’s premier research institutions, would be adversely impacted" by the loss of funds, Clark wrote in a memo to faculty, students, and alumi announcing the change. But, he added, to say "this decision is just about money trivializes the significance these funds have on students’ educations, faculty careers, and scientific research."

The decision is likely to impact every other school that still bans the military from recruiting on campus. Since that’s the case, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that our colleges and universities be able to set high standards for those companies and organizations that want to come to their campuses to meet with their students. Harvard Law School, for example, asks all prospective recruiters to sign a statement attesting "that it does not discriminate on various bases, including on the basis of sexual orientation," according to Clark. It’s a simple enough request. Of course, it’s not one the military, with its odious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue" policy can fulfill.

Is this about the war on terrorism? Is the military not getting enough applicants for service that it now needs to go after schools like Harvard Law to meet its goals? No. Each branch of the armed forces recently announced that it has met this year's recruitment goals. So this isn’t about needing to find people to sign up. This is about making a political point.

Clark writes: "We are dedicated not only to the rule of law, but also to the advancement of a just society." If only that were the case with the army, air force, navy, and marines.

What do you think? Send an e-mail at letters[a]

Issue Date: August 29 - September 5, 2002
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