ACLU's Graham Boyd to Speak on "Drugs and the Constitution," Dec. 10
A "rave" is an electronic dance music event. One website devoted to raves calls them, "the pulse of something intangible, a positive unifying groove, an extraordinary feeling, a vibe that transcends description." The Drug Enforcement Agency has tried to call them a crime.
Last year, three music promoters who organized raves were arrested in New Orleans, Louisiana. They weren't charged with selling, possessing, or using drugs, but were instead prosecuted under the federal "crack house" law, which was designed to punish the owners of properties used for the distribution of drugs.
"The grumpy old men at the DEA have decided that they . . . want to eliminate raves," says Graham Boyd, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Policy Litigation Unit. Raves were targeted because of their association with the "club drug" ecstasy, but Boyd points out that the deliberate tactic of shutting down musical events because of possible drug use is unprecedented. He compares the process to outlawing jazz or reggae concerts.
Boyd participated in the defense of the music promoters, arguing that their prosecution amounted to censorship. The case was eventually resolved with a settlement between the government and a company owned by the promoters--and no criminal convictions. However, this agreement led to further civil liberties challenges.
As part of the settlement, the music promoters agreed to ban items popular at raves, such as glow sticks, surgical masks, and pacifiers--which the government claimed were drug paraphernalia--at their events. Boyd and the ACLU challenged this provision on behalf of concert goers who felt that their freedom of expression was being curtailed. A judge agreed and overturned the restriction.
This is one of several cases that the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Unit is working on and that Boyd will discuss at his talk on Monday.
One of the other cases was recently accepted for review by the U.S. Supreme Court and could have a "particularly broad impact," says Boyd. The case is a challenge of an Oklahoma School District policy requiring random urine tests from all students in grades 7-12 who sign up for non-athletic extracurricular activities. Its decision could "end up determining whether drug testing becomes standard in high schools."
"All of these cases," Boyd explains, "pit the Constitution against overreaching drug-law enforcement." And Boyd believes that drug enforcement has become a particularly pivotal battleground for Constitutional rights. He notes a pattern where exceptions to established protections are first made to protect kids from drugs, and are then broadened to affect more people.
"We're seeing right now that the specter of war is often used as an occasion for rolling back civil liberties," says Boyd. He adds that government can use the "war on drugs," a metaphorical war, in much the same way simply by "waving the flag of war."
First-year student Alexandra Block, who invited Boyd to speak at YLS, says that drug-law enforcement "isn't talked about much as a civil rights issue, but I think it is a civil rights issue." She adds that Boyd and the ACLU are "at the forefront of First Amendment law."