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Federal Judges Who Criticize the "War on Drugs"


July-August 1998

The list of Federal judges criticizing the "war on drugs" has expanded recently. With help from the November Coalition, NewsBriefs compiled a list of some of these judges, their opinions, and contact information. November Coalition - 795 South Cedar, Colville, WA 99114, Tel: (509) 684-1550.

Judge John Curtin, an active member of the New York-based ReConsider, a drug-reform organization, likened the "drug war" to the Vietnam War in an op-ed for the Buffalo News. "In spite of throwing more men and millions of dollars into the fray, we finally concluded that negotiation was the only solution. The use of the word `legalization' has been demonized, just like `negotiation' was before Henry Kissinger met with the Viet Cong in Paris. ... Education, counseling, less use of criminal sanctions, partial legalization, and legalization are all alternatives. It is a hard road, but the present course has failed" (John T. Curtin, "Federal judge concludes drug legalization is the way to go," Buffalo News, March 2, 1997).

Judge John T. Curtin, 624 US Courthouse, 68 Court St., Buffalo, NY 14202, Tel: (716) 551-4221, Fax: (716) 551-5758.

ReConsider - Nick Eyle, Executive Director, 205 Onondaga Ave., Syracuse, NY 13207, Tel: (315) 422-6231.

Judge Warren Eginton of Connecticut told a group of Connecticut businessmen that he would like to see marijuana and cocaine legalized because it would help solve the current backlog in the court system (Michael P. Mayko, "Judge: Legalize 2 Drugs," Bridgeport Post (Connecticut), October 8, 1985).

Judge Warren W. Eginton - Brian McMahon Federal Building and United States Courthouse, 915 Lafayette Boulevard, Bridgeport, CT 06604-4768, Tel: (203) 579-5819, Fax: (203) 579-5768.

Judge Nancy Gertner, a district judge in Boston, criticizes the "drug war" for spending too much federal funds while depriving Americans of liberty. At a forum presented by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, Gertner listed some examples in which individual freedom was sacrificed in the name of the war, including forfeiture cases, locker searches lacking in probable cause, and people evicted from public housing based on the suspicion that they sell drugs. She said, "This is the cost of the drug war which cannot be measured in dollars but can only be measured in liberty" ("Is the Drug War Forever?," Judge Nancy Gertner, January 29, 1998).

Judge Nancy Gertner, 736 John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse, 90 Devonshire Street, Boston, MA 02109, Tel: (617) 223-4844, Fax: (617) 305-0921.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins of Utah recently moderated a discussion at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City about ending the war on drugs. The panel consisted of two of Utah's top prosecutors and three attorneys. Jenkins would not express an opinion on the "drug war" when asked by NewsBriefs (Patty Henetz, "Panel Ponders Approach to `War on Drugs,'" Salt Lake Tribune, June 3, 1998).

Judge Bruce S. Jenkins, 251 U.S. Courthouse, 350 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, UT 84101, Tel: (801) 524-5167.

Judge John Kane Jr., a senior district judge from Denver, has written articles and delivered speeches calling for an end to the punishment of drug users. Kane believes that drug abuse should be addressed as a health problem instead of a crime issue. He has compared the current illicit drug market to that of alcohol during Prohibition, saying that by removing legal barriers to drug use, the government can reduce the illegal drug market. "If the resources now spent on criminalization of drugs were devoted instead to education and treatment, the cost and dangers of drug use would be greatly reduced" (Karen Abbott, "Judge Urges Truce in Drug War," Rocky Mountain News, June 4, 1998, p. 4A; John L. Kane, Jr., "Prisoner to Drugs," Op-Ed, Denver Post, November 2, 1997, p. 1I).

Judge John L. Kane, Jr. - Room C-428, US Courthouse, 1929 Stout St., Denver, CO 80294, Tel: (303) 844-6118, Fax: (303) 844-4454.

Judge Whitman Knapp of New York City, a Nixon appointee, was featured in the New York Law Journal for his opposition to the drug war. He spoke of the futility of the "war on drugs" that he believes is felt by judges across the country. He said, "We'll get nowhere with this problem unless we banish from our minds the stubborn belief that we can ultimately win this war by the simple device of spending more money and sacrificing more troops" (see "Federal Judge Whitman Knapp Urges Thinking About Decriminalization," NewsBriefs, April 1993) (Deborah Pines, "Knapp Urges `Serious' Thought to Decriminalization of Drugs," New York Law Journal, March 26, 1993, p. 1).

Judge Whitman Knapp - 1201 United States Courthouse, 40 Centre Street, New York, NY, 10007-1581, Tel: (212) 805-6165, Fax: (212) 805-6171.

Judge James Paine of Florida delivered a speech to the Federal Bar Association in Miami in 1997 detailing the inadequacies of the "drug war" and the government's inertia in changing its drug policy. "In spite of the eighty year history of attempts to prohibit use of illegal drugs, few law enforcement officials any longer contend that their efforts can do much more than they already are doing to reduce drug abuse in the United States. These efforts have met with scant success in the past and show no indication of succeeding in the future," said Paine. He added that he believes drug use should be decriminalized and the government should regulate the sale of drugs instead of completely prohibiting them (James C. Paine, Speech Before the Federal Bar Association, Miami, FL, October 8, 1997; also see "Federal Judge in West Palm Beach Calls for Legalization," NewsBriefs, January 1992, p. 14).

Judge James C. Paine - 453 Federal Building, 701 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, FL 33401, Tel: (561) 803-3430.

In May 1993, Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said he would favor immediate legalization of marijuana and hallucinogens. He added that legalization of all drugs was not politically feasible (Randall Samborn, "7th Circuit Concludes Drug War Is Lost Cause," National Law Journal, June 7, 1993, p. 6; "More Judges Conclude Drug War Is Lost Cause," NewsBriefs, July 1993).

Judge Richard A. Posner - Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, 219 South Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60604, Tel: (312) 435-5806, Fax: (312) 435-7545.

In a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., Judge Stanley Sporkin of D.C. said that he objects to the unfairness of "filling our jails with a lot of secondary violators of the drug laws. ... We are reaching the point where we are going to have to open the prison doors and let these prisoners out" (Stanley Sporkin, "Impact of Sentencing Guidelines on Federal Courts," Speech Before American University Washington College of Law, Washington, D.C., April 4, 1997).

Judge Stanley Sporkin - U.S. Courthouse, 3rd and Constitution Ave., Washington DC 20001, Tel: (202) 273-0573, Fax: (202) 273-0081.

Judge Robert Sweet, a New York district judge, one of the most prominent judicial critics of the drug war, views its greatest problem as its attack on personal liberty. He wrote, "Finally, the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to others," (Robert Sweet et. al., "The War on Drugs is Lost," National Review, February 12, 1996, p. 44).

Judge Robert W. Sweet - U.S. District Courthouse, 500 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10007-1312, Tel: (212) 805-0254, Fax: (212) 805-7925.

Judge Juan Torruella, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, has said that the "war on drugs" has been expensive and largely ineffective. "We must ask ourselves which imposes greater cost to society -- permitting drugs or prohibiting them," Torruella told an audience at Colby College (Waterville, ME) in 1996. "Let's look at this problem and find new ways of dealing with it," he said (Kevin Cool, "A Losing Battle?" Colby Magazine on-line, August 1996). [His speech is being distributed by the PRDI - Tel: (212) 362-1964].

Judge Juan R. Torruella, U.S. Court of Appeals, Clemente Ruiz Nazario U.S. Courthouse, 150 Carlos Chardon Ave., Hatorey, Peurto Rico 00918-1763, Tel: (787) 766-5733, Fax: (787) 766 5744.

Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco told NewsBriefs that he feels that the drug war has only worsened problems associated with drug use. He pointed to the corruption of police, drug-related gang violence, and the lack of a safe, regulated drug market as results of the current drug laws in this country.

Judge Vaughn R. Walker - United States Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Ave., P.O. Box 36060, San Francisco, CA 94102-3489, Tel: (415) 522-3620, Fax: (415) 522-3627.

Judge Jack Weinstein, former Chief Judge, Eastern District of New York, is a signatory of the Hoover Resolution and the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy, both of which call for a thorough examination of current drug policy and possible alternatives. Weinstein moderated a panel on drug policy reform sponsored by the Drug Policy Foundation on May 21, 1996 (Rob Stewart, Drug Policy Letter, Summer 1996, pp. 10-11). He also participated in a forum at Harvard University Law School on May 21, 1994 with then-"drug czar" Dr. Lee Brown titled "Crime, Drugs, Health & Prohibition: The Great Harvard Drug Debate," supported in part by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Judge Jack B. Weinstein, US Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza, E. Brooklyn, NY 11201, Tel: (718) 260-2520.