Sex Crimes

Scarlet-Letter Passports Are Unjust and Irrational

The new "unique identifier" for sex offenders stigmatizes people who pose no threat.

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The notice, which will appear on the second-to-last page of U.S. passports, is officially known as an "endorsement," but it is more like a badge of shame. "The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor," it says, "and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l)."

The scary notation, which was revealed this week, is the State Department's response to a 2016 law requiring that the passports of certain registered sex offenders include a "unique identifier" to help maintain their status as pariahs wherever they travel. Although the warning is supposedly aimed at stopping sexual predators from abusing children in other countries, it will mark the passports of many people who pose no such threat.

The "unique identifier" is mandated by the International Megan's Law (IML), which purports to prevent "child sex tourism," a crime that seems to be pretty rare. From 2003 through 2009, according to an earlier version of the bill, the Justice Department "obtained 73 convictions of individuals from the United States charged with committing sexual crimes against minors in other countries"—an average of about 10 per year.

Instead of focusing on people who have demonstrated a propensity to commit such crimes, the IML casts a wide net that covers offenders who have never assaulted a child, let alone traveled to another country for that purpose. The Americans whose passports will brand them as international child molesters include people convicted of misdemeanors as well as felonies, people who committed their offenses as minors, people who were convicted decades ago and have never reoffended, people who as teenagers had consensual sex with other teenagers, and people who committed noncontact offenses such as sexting, streaking, public urination, and looking at child pornography.

At a party 15 years ago, when she was 19, Shawna Clouatre hooked up with a boy who turned out to be 14. As a result, she was forced to register as a sex offender for life, which among other things means she has trouble keeping jobs and is not allowed to take her own children to the park.

In a heartbreaking interview with documentarian David Feige, the young Oklahoma mother talks wistfully about her dreams of traveling the world, rendered impractical by the lifetime probation imposed after her youthful mistake. Even if she managed to overcome that obstacle, the passport notation required by the IML would ensure that she was viewed with unjustified fear and suspicion wherever she might go.

Last year four sex offenders challenged the IML in federal court, claiming it violates their Fifth Amendment right to due process and the constitutional ban on retroactive punishment. The plaintiffs argued that the "Scarlet Letter" and "international travel blacklist" created by the IML will expose them and their traveling companions to harassment, impinging on their freedom to travel, to earn a living, and to visit relatives in other countries.

One plaintiff, who "was convicted of a felony sex offense involving a minor over twenty-five years ago," is "an officer of a corporation with facilities and customers in Europe and Asia, and routinely travels to various countries within Europe and Asia for business purposes." Another plaintiff, who committed a crime minor enough that he was sentenced only to probation and was initially told he would not have to register as a sex offender, will nevertheless have to carry a special passport.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the IML easily passes the "rational basis" test. "Under rational basis review," she explained, "a law 'may be overinclusive, underinclusive, illogical, and unscientific and yet pass constitutional muster.'"

Stigmatizing someone like Shawna Clouatre as a threat to children everywhere for the rest of her life may seem irrational, but that does not mean it fails the rational basis test. Even if the IML is poorly designed to achieve its ostensible goal, Congress says it will protect children, and that's rational enough for government work.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying a law ‘may be overinclusive, underinclusive, illogical, and unscientific and yet pass constitutional muster.'”

    A new convert!

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    2. If the Supreme Court was honest, the “rational basis test” would be called the “irrational basis test”.

  2. “who committed non-contact offenses such as sexting, streaking, public urination, and looking at child pornography.”

    Maybe let that last one stay on the bench next time.

    1. Maybe let that last one stay on the bench next time.

      It could’ve been better stated, something more along the lines of ‘passively or incidentally viewing of inappropriate nudity’.

      I think it’s still worth including as people get busted for receiving or viewing pornography that they had no part in producing, didn’t specifically request or demand, paid no price to acquire, and isn’t or wasn’t necessarily or exactly illegal in the manner in which or at the time they acquired it.

      1. Ok, but let’s build support for the first 3 before we scare them off with the last one.

      2. I don’t think that’ll fit on the posters. (Or memes, I suppose, nowadays).

    2. Why do libertarians have a bad reputation?

      1. IKR? We give the people suitcase nukes, we give them methamphetamine candy, we give them more child pornography than Jerry Sandusky could shake his stick at, and they STILL aren’t grateful for it…

  3. “International Megan’s Law”

    This is the worst monster unleashed on the world by toxic American aggression and foolhardy irresponsibility since Godzilla.

    Or Hitlery/Drumpf, as your partisan incontinence inclines you.

    1. “Or Hitlery/Drumpf, as your partisan incontinence inclines you.”

      LOL. The law that prompted this was passed under Barack Hussein Obama, not Trump.

      Trump-hating lefties need to actually understand articles before commenting on them. Thank you for being schooled.

      1. I was not accusing either Clinton or Trump of being responsible for the IML. I was offering them up as alternative candidates for the title of “worst monster unleashed by toxic American aggression and foolhardy irresponsibility” prior to the IML (alongside Godzilla), offering a choice between them for the sake of bipartisanship.

        Corpse-fucking trolls need to actually understand comments before responding to them. Please seek remedial schooling. I’m sure there is a Kindergarten in your area.

  4. Just tear out that page from your passport. Tear out, destroy, and/or deface any government attempts to do things to you like this. I deactivated my passport microchip and defaced my driver’s license bar code immediately because if people cannot read the information written in the passport and driver license, then fuck them.

    This unconstitutional sexual offender hysteria just needs to stop. Of course, nobody wants to be the one to defend a diddler. Once these deviants are out of prison and off parole or probation, there is no authority in the Constitution to make these people register or be branded like this.

    1. I’d assign higher priority to restoring full rights to those whose forearms were tatooed as “felons” for possession of a hemp seed during the Johnson-Nixon era.

    2. If one were to do that, then one would be arrested by U.S. C.P.B. on return to the U.S. Sex offender Registrants ALWAYS go through vigorous screening on their return to the U.S. and checking the passport marking will be de rigeur for those agents. The Registrant would definitely end up in prison over this.

    3. >Once these deviants are out of prihat son and off parole or probation, there is no authority in the Constitution to make these people register or be branded like this.

      This problem would be mostly solved if we get rid of the insane system of letting people out before they serve their sentence. Getting rid of the parole system and cutting down on recidivist crime would more than pay for the minor cost of keeping criminals locked up for the duration of their sentences.

      In the meantime, anyone with sentencing authority should double it on the assumption that the perp will serve half his time.

  5. Watts a child malester anyways? if evryone who tuched a little kid is a pedofile then evryone in my trayler park is a pedofile. sumtimes yore 8 yeer old neece wants to tuch my dik. a little cum on her face int gonna hurt her none

  6. This is a replay of the old “fugitive slave” notices nationalsocialists stapled to our passports back during the War on Poverty and War on Vietnam and its bystanders. At every international border Offissa Opie would ask “Kid, where’s your draft card?”

  7. Some people are sympathetic victims and some aren’t. The problem isn’t the passport stamp, it’s the ridiculous sex offender registry rules.

  8. America: Love it or leave it…

    Oh wait, never mind…

  9. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the IML easily passes the “rational basis” test. “Under rational basis review,” she explained, “a law ‘may be overinclusive, underinclusive, illogical, and unscientific and yet pass constitutional muster.'”

    So let me get this straight; overinclusive, underinclusive, illogical, and unscientific are all now rational??!!
    (So no more babbling about global climate warming change?)

    Time to reconsider lifetime appointment to the bench.

    1. It’s crazy layered on crazy. The reason people continue to forever burn witches is found within this judge’s opinion.

    2. The point is that it isn’t a point of litigation whether the policy is good or bad. Merely whether it was within the jurisdiction of congress and they had a rational basis that was not discriminatory.

  10. This is more overreach by the government. There are currently 861,000 men, women and children (young as 5, 6 8 & 10) registered across the nation….that affects over 2.5 million registrant family members. In 1996 the concept was a “law enforcement only” for violent repeat offenders.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Women Against Registry

    1. Then they came for the illegal humans…

      Then they came for people who give or receive abortions…

      Next, they will come for the Libertarians!

      1. And that will be the end of it, because the survivors will not ‘come after’ anyone again.

    2. And then they destroy themselves which is the one silver lining when hatred and insanity takes hold, it always falls back on its admirers.

  11. Only in a Trump America would we find being in the same league with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia completely acceptable.

    1. Oh, bullshit. This Sex Offender Registry nonsense has been going on for decades. Through NeoCon and Liberal Administrations, both. Further more this is just the kind of government buttinskiism that Shrillary would have delighted in…as long as it didn’t apply to the Political Class Democrats.

      This is so stupid that it is truly bipartisan.

    2. It’s your partisanship, not your SO status that turns otherwise similar-thinking people away from you and your cause.

  12. How about we endorse state issued DL’s, ID’s and Green Cards. Hell… lets endorse certain employee ID cards as well. The public has the right to know who’s around them and their children

  13. I say that if we don’t have the guts to brand them with hot irons, we shouldn’t do what amounts to the same thing. The sex offender registry is nonsense, because it has been expanded to include just about anything that offends a politician and can somehow be cast as sexual. Consequently, it persecutes lots of relatively innocent slobs while doing little to nothing to identify people who are actually dangerous.

  14. When it comes to emotionally charged “feel good” laws, this country is the hands-down champion. Unintended consequences? Who cares! At least the people know we’re doing something harsh to stop ___________________ (fill in the blank).

    1. Sadly, I do not think the consequences are all that unintended.

  15. Shameful. Jean Valjean still lives.

  16. “At a party 15 years ago, when she was 19, Shawna Clouatre hooked up with a boy who turned out to be 14. As a result, she was forced to register as a sex offender for life”

    She’s also an irresponsible single parent for life, and her kid will be saddled with the consequences of single parenthood for life. On balance, I consider that far worse than the passport notation.

  17. For all the hypersexualization of American culture, we are and probably always will be a culture of “once a sinner, forever damned.” Just look at the Hollywood witch-hunt (yes, I went there) today. Does anyone seriously think that Spacey or Hoffman’s careers should be dustbinned because of arguably gross sexual misadventures 30 years ago? I don’t. In fact, I’ll probably watch “Usual Suspects” tonight just to make a point. Is it then any surprise that when it comes to a criminally-charged sex offense the nightmare never ends?

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