Pundits are trying to weaponise the law to take down the Florida Governor
Nineteenth-century Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz remarked that war is a mere continuation of policy by other means. Here in the 21st century, we are much more civilised: when politics ends, we don’t resort to war, we just try to put our political opponents in jail.
The latest example of ‘lawfare’ followed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to fly 48 illegal immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a playground for the rich and self-proclaimed ‘sanctuary city’ for illegal immigration.
It is fair to ask how any of this involved Florida, the state of which DeSantis is actually governor, but the funds for the enterprise were legally appropriated by Florida’s legislature. The flight was part of a broader trend of governors along the Mexican border attempting to shift the burden of record-breaking illegal immigration from impoverished border towns to the rich cities and states that support a lenient policy on the border.
If they can’t get him on misusing state funds, and they can’t defeat him in his upcoming reelection bid (which seems to be the case, based on polling) DeSantis’s enemies will take the Clausewitzian approach and throw him in jail, if they can. A much retweeted thread by Left-wing pundit Judd Legum laid out the road map for jailing the Republican governor: by offering these people a ride under what he alleges are false pretences, Legum says, DeSantis is guilty of “fraud or kidnapping.” A Democratic sheriff in Texas seems interested in the idea.
The first indication that this might not stand up to scrutiny is that Legum does not even know what crime he thinks DeSantis committed. Fraud and kidnapping are two very different crimes!
Kidnapping, in Texas law, is when someone ‘intentionally or knowingly abducts another person.’ That same section of the code defines ‘abduction’ as ‘to restrain a person with intent to prevent his liberation by (A) secreting or holding him in a place where he is not likely to be found; or (B) using or threatening to use deadly force.’
Even DeSantis’s worst detractors cannot credibly allege that he hid these people (the flights were public and well-covered in the press) or that he used the threat of ‘deadly force’ to get them on the plane. The section of the Texas Penal Code on fraud does not appear to cover anything even close to what happened, even if Legum’s claims are taken at face value.
Others point to a federal kidnapping law, 18 USC § 1201 which, among other things, bans kidnapping by inveiglement. ‘Inveigle’ is just the kind of word to take fake lawyer Twitter by storm: Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “to lure or entice or lead astray, by false representations or promises, or other deceitful means.”
The crux of this argument is that DeSantis’s people promised the migrants that they would find benefits and security in Massachusetts, which Legum and others say is a lie. DeSantis, in an interview with Erick Erickson, said that his officials did no such thing — the passengers were all volunteers seeking what Massachusetts publicly advertises as its benefits available to refugees.
Before prosecuting someone, we should really figure out what actually happened, and then consider if it breaks any law. But this isn’t about law: it’s about politics by other means. Combing federal and state criminal codes to find a violation might serve to injure a political opponent — America has a massive amount of law on the books, much of it never enforced, and partisan sheriffs will do what they will — but it is not the way the legal system is supposed to work.