Essay:Slowness of government

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The slowness of government in responding to citizen concerns and complaints is a major method of imposing injustice.

Drug reform

Jon Gettman notes that one of the secrets of cannabis prohibition continuing to be illegal is "They make it take forever to even attempt to change it."[1] That is, although there is a process established by the 21 U.S.C. § 811 of the Controlled Substances Act for administratively changing the legal status of cannabis, it takes years for a petition to work its way through review by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Health and Human Services. Any procedural error on the part of the petitioners is grounds for dismissal, requiring them to start over at square one. Meanwhile, the courts refuse to intervene when litigants argue that cannabis does not meet the 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1) criteria for Schedule I status, on the grounds that the administrative process for reforming cannabis' legal status is available.

Ballot access

In the electoral system, judges, attorneys-general and secretaries of state sometimes wait until the last minute to issue decisions keeping dissident candidates and initiatives off the ballot, so that there is not time for the case to finish working its way through the appellate system before the ballots go to print, or before the election. For example, in 2012, the U.S. Libertarian Party believed that it could win its Oklahoma ballot access lawsuit on behalf of its candidate, Gary Johnson, but agreed to delay the case until 2013 because the Party was led to believe that Johnson would be allowed on the ballot as the nominee for the Americans Elect Party. The Attorney General had actually written an opinion keeping Johnson off the ballot entirely, but kept that opinion secret until the Libertarian Party had waived its rights to speedy resolution of the matter.[2] In Michigan that same year, the Republican Secretary of State was asked to render a decision on Johnson's ballot access in June, but delayed it for three months and then said that it would be too difficult to place him on the ballot with so little time remaining before Election Day.

Trial dates

Courts often have a backlog of cases and routinely postpone hearings due to participants' overscheduling or various administrative snafus. A person who is jailed while awaiting trial, even if eventually acquitted, cannot get back that time he served in pretrial detention. After activist Ademo Voluntaryist Freeman was ordered to serve his prison sentence while awaiting the outcome of his appeal, Julian Heicklen wryly remarked, "Presumably if the appeal is successful, Ademo’s life on this earth will be extended by the court to compensate for the time served."[3]


Likewise, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) eliminated the legal requirement that prison administrative remedy systems be "plain, speedy, and effective";[4] this made it possible for prisons to tie up prisoners' complaints of abusive, unfair treatment (including false accusations of disciplinary infractions that result in loss of good conduct time credits) in a three-level internal appeals system in which cases can drag on for months or years, with the government typically extending its deadlines for response and then missing even the extended deadlines. A remedy request must first be presented "informally" by a written request to one's correctional counselor; then it must be appealed to the Warden; then to the Regional Director; and finally to the General Counsel.

At each stage in this process, there is potential for the government to wait until the last minute and then reject the appeal on technicalities that require the prisoner to either fix minor deficiencies and then resubmit his appeal, or in some cases start over from scratch, for example if the decision is appealed all the way to the top and then determined to have been improperly drafted or submitted from the beginning. In many cases, an appeal will result in a remand to a lower level; the lower level official then finds another grounds for reaching the same decision as before, and the process begins anew. Since 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the PLRA requires that prisoners exhaust their administrative remedies before going to court, this effectively bars them from obtaining any relief.