Politics & Prejudices: How about a financial offender list?

How's this idea: The government starts a financial offenders' list that includes every slumlord who has ever been convicted of code violations. We add to that all the subprime mortgage scum who almost destroyed our economy.

Crooked car salesmen, those who have stolen and defrauded our governments and our schools. Norman Shy and the criminal Detroit principals who billed the Detroit public schools for supplies they never received would be on there.

Not to mention everybody in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration who pled to or were convicted of anything. And we also put their home addresses on there, so everyone they ever cheated can find out exactly where they live.

Plus we make it illegal for them to ever go within 1,000 feet of a financial institution of any kind. If they change jobs or banks or start a subscription to Forbes, they will have to report it to the government.

We'll make them all stay on this list for years; some, for life. And we'll also make them pay to help defray the costs to stigmatize them! Doesn't that sound fair?

Sound Democratic? Compassionate? Of course it doesn't! This sounds like Stalin's Soviet Union, or a lost chapter of George Orwell's 1984. But that's what the state of Michigan is doing. Not, unfortunately, to those who are exploiting the people; those creatures are way too close to a lot of politicians, primarily (though not completely) Republicans.

Take William Rauwerdink, for example, a key behind-the-scenes figure in the Michigan Republican Party. He just happens to be a convicted felon who served four years in federal prison for his role in a Troy-based financial fraud case.

The feds also ordered him to pay an astonishing $245 million in restitution to the victims. You'd think any respectable politician would want to stay as far away from this creep as possible. But no. Far from shunning him, the Party of Trump embraced him with open arms when he emerged from the pen.

He did crawl back into the shadows a bit after being exposed by Macomb County journalist Chad Selweski on his Politically Speaking blog. Yet the Dink attended both the national and state GOP conventions this year.

And — you won't believe this — but the state Republican Party made him a member of the Electoral College! If Donald Trump carries Michigan, the Dink will be one of 16 people who will cast the state's electoral votes in December.

Yes, I know George Washington is vomiting somewhere. You won't, of course, find Rauwerdink on any statewide shaming registry. That's because our government believes he's done his time and paid his debt to society. But let's say old Rauwerdink was a 20-year-old who stuck his dink into some perfectly willing young woman who wasn't quite 16?

Well, then he'd be on the Michigan sex offender registry, for years, if not for life. Nothing is more politically popular than beating up on sex offenders, and so Michigan's contemptible legislature has established the sex offender registry.

Fortunately, three federal judges clipped its wings last month, though not enough. More on that soon — but first, a little review of what the sex offender registry really is. Someone might argue that yes, a creep like Rauwerdink is despicable, but not a clear danger in the way a serial rapist would be.

Hard to argue with that.

But most of the 42,700 people on the sex offender list aren't violent sex offenders. They include some poor wretch who, when he was 23, met a young woman at an adults-only nightclub and ended up having sex with her.

Unfortunately for him, she was under the age of consent — so he is stuck on the sex offender list, stigmatized, and branded a pervert, with his address visible to any drunk who might want to take a little vigilante action against a dee-generate.

And here's the really laughable part:

The two fell in love and are now married.

Do they belong on a sex offender list? Of course not. Neither do two middle-aged, middle-class people I knew whose barely adult son was — unbeknownst to them — collecting child pornography on his computer in their house.

One day he tried to sell some to someone who turned out to be the law. He's in federal prison now, and their home is on the registry. That's crazy, sick, and wrong.

Granted, the kid made a stupid and repulsive mistake. But nobody alleged that he ever touched a child. It makes no sense to stigmatize his parents' home.

And thanks to all this, when he gets out — what kind of future can he possibly have? Who is going to hire someone who is branded a sex offender on a public registry? Would you be surprised if he ends up turning to crime to stay alive, or even goes back to trying to sell child porn? I wouldn't.

Your tax dollars are helping to turn him into a monster. Incidentally, did you know people on the registry are even forced to pay an annual fee for the pleasure of having their future destroyed and ruined?

Not content with establishing this turkey, your lawmakers have kept making it worse, instead of earning their salaries by doing something like fixing the roads. Ten years ago, they added the burden that those on the sex offender registry could not live, work, or even walk within 1,000 feet of a school.

Five years ago, the legislature decreed that all sex offenders on the list would be arbitrarily divided into three "tiers," according to the seriousness of their crimes.

Remember, these aren't people who have escaped from prison and who are on the lam. They are folks who — just like good old Bill Rauwerdink — have served their time.

But on Aug. 25, a three-judge panel from the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously struck down all the new restrictions added since the list was created, saying it was unconstitutional to apply them retroactively.

Judge Alice Batchelder, who wrote the court's opinion, is not seen as a flaming liberal; she was appointed to the bench by the first President George Bush.

But she went out of her way to denounce the registry itself, and hint that much more of it may be unconstitutional, including aspects not challenged in this particular case. She correctly noted that it "brands registrants as moral lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction.

"It consigns them to years, if not a lifetime, of existence on the margins, not only of society, but often ... from their own families, with whom, due to school zone restrictions, they may not even live." It was medieval in many ways, she noted.

And in words that should make her a hero to anyone who loves justice and the U.S. Constitution, she said: "As dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government, under the guise of civil regulation, to punish people without prior notice."

Besides being a blow for human rights, this was another defeat for our demagogue Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose actions are mostly based on whether or not he thinks they will help him get elected governor.

It wasn't clear when I wrote this column whether he would try to appeal this to the U.S. Supreme Court, though the departure of Tony Scalia for the angels earlier this year likely means the court would be less inclined to do the wrong thing.

What ought to be perfectly clear is that returning to a legal system from the Middle Ages isn't a good idea. Happily, last month, three high-ranking federal judges agreed.

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