Thinking Citizen Blog — What is the Logan Act? Should it be repealed? Does it matter?
Thinking Citizen Blog — Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day
Today’s Topic: What is the Logan Act? Should it be repealed? Does it matter?
In 2018, President Trump threatened John Kerry for prosecution under the Logan Act for privately meeting with Iranian leaders to help preserve the Iran Deal. Others accused of violations include Jimmy Carter for meeting with Hamas in 2008, Jesse Jackson for his trips to Cuba and Nicaragua in 1984. And then there is Michael Flynn, accused of consorting with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration. Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe and others have argued that the 221-year-old law has had but one purpose namely to serve as “a cudgel to attack political opponents”? Are they right? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
THE HISTORY: the dark days of the 1790s and the Alien and Sedition Acts
1.”The Logan Act is a relic of what Thomas Jefferson called “the reign of witches,” when the Federalist majority in Congress approved, and President John Adams signed, laws making it a crime to oppose the president.” (Jacoby)
2. “Two of those laws were the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts; the Logan Act was another. It was named for George Logan, a Philadelphia Quaker who attempted to privately negotiate a détente with France at a time when the Adams administration was deeply hostile to the French government.”
3. “Outraged by Logan’s “temerity and impertinence,” Adams asked Congress to make it illegal to communicate with foreign officials “without authority.” Congress obliged. The law has been with us ever since.”
NB: George Logan was an anti-Federalist Quaker from Philadelphia who was subsequently elected to the US Senate. He personally could not be prosecuted because the law was passed ex post facto (after the fact). Thomas Jefferson called him “the best farmer in Pennsylvania both in theory and practice.” His portrait is above.
HOW MANY CONVICTIONS UNDER THE LOGAN ACT SINCE? 0
1. “If the Logan Act were ever tested in court, it would almost certainly be struck down as an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.” (Jacoby)
2. “Nevertheless, as long as it remains on the books, it will tempt malicious prosecutors and zealous political operatives. If that wasn’t clear before the Flynn case, it is now.”
3. “The Logan Act is dangerous and un-American, and ought to be expunged once and for all.”
NB: There have been two prosecutions under the Logan Act — in 1802 and 1852. Both were acquitted.
A VAGUE, OPEN-ENDED LAW INVITES ABUSE (Charles Lipson, emeritus professor, University of Chicago)
1. “The Logan Act is a devilish temptation — to bad cops at the FBI, to bad lawyers at the Justice Department, and to bad policy makers in the White House.”
2. “The law is so broad and vague it can be used to investigate almost any opponent at almost any time. If anybody can be threatened, enforcement is bound to be selective and discriminatory, not uniform and blind as law enforcement should be.”
3. “These endemic problems mean the Logan Act would probably be found unconstitutional, if it faced such a challenge. It hasn’t, because no one has been convicted under it. So it lurks on the books, a tool for political mischief.”
NB: In 1941, former President Herbert Hoover was threatened with prosecution under the Logan Act for discussing food relief with European governments. Where do you draw the line between treason and freedom of speech? (Hoover’s portrait is above.)
Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to justice, freedom, the law or basic values. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to justice, freedom, the law, or basic values.
Or just some random justice-related fact that blew you away. This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart.