Law in Contemporary Society
Who serves to benefit from the Florida Stand Your Ground statute and others like it???

The Silver Lining

In the Op-Ed Column today in the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote about what he sees may be the “silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing.” According to Krugman, who relies heavily on a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the Florida Stand Your Ground statute is nearly identical to a model statute drafted by the NRA and unanimously approved by the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides copies of its templates to legislators across the United States. The silver lining to Martin’s tragic death, Krugman maintains, is that the subsequent obsession over the Florida statute and others like it in this country will finally open the public’s eyes to the devastating effect ALEC’s influence has on our democracy and society.

What ALEC Is

ALEC proclaims to be a “nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public” formed with the purpose of “advancing the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” However, these claims can be very misleading. ALEC in fact pursues far-right policies including the privatization (by existing corporations) of many current government responsibilities.


ALEC is a conglomeration of what Krugman refers to as the “usual suspects.” Its Corporate Board alone includes representatives from AT&T, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil? , Johnson & Johnson, Koch Companies, Pfizer, PhRMA? , and Wal-Mart. Its public-sector alumni include John Boehner, Dennis Hastert, Donald Rumsfeld, Tom Delay, and Andrew Card.

What ALEC Does

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC enables “global corporations and state politicians [to] vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights” by drafting template bills that directly benefit the corporations, organizations, and politicians doing the drafting. For example, representatives of the National Rifle Association were present in closed-door meetings with ALEC members to draft the model “Castle Doctrine” bill, based on the format of Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, with the desired effect of encouraging more states to adopt similar statutes. The inquisitive reader might ask, “Who serves to benefit from the passing of similar laws?” The answer stares back at that reader from the list of ALEC’s corporate board membership, which includes Maggie Sans, the VP of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Wal-Mart, which just so happens to be the nation’s leading seller of firearms and ammunition for personal use.

Where Trayvon Martin Fits In

According to Krugman, ALEC’s supporters serve to benefit from the scandal surrounding Martin’s death and the subsequent non-arrest of George Zimmerman because it is strategically organized and operated to manipulate future policy through the “long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda.” By encouraging the adoption of Castle Doctrine statutes across the U.S., ALEC can foster an environment of fear and uncertainty that will create a society that is more open to adopting its future policy recommendations by electing politicians who will enact its template bills in their advertised format.

Why This Is Important To Our Class Discourse

Early in the course, we were introduced to the concept that the law is a weak form of social control. In class yesterday, Eben posited that the beauty of the law grows out of this very weakness. I think my initial reaction--questioning the notion that a social force that operates with such extraordinary weakness can be "beautiful"--arose out of my desire to view beauty as a quality that imparts aesthetic pleasure on those who observe it. However, if the "beauty" of the law's weakness is in its capability to foster or protect injustice to such an extent that the public does not even want to come into contact with it, then the Trayvon Martin incident is a shining example of that beauty. To me, this seems like irony. Law is social force that we are taught to think is there for the protection of the public good; a reflection of the social and moral values of a society that operates to enforce and maintain those values. Coming into law school, I had fully bought into this understanding of the law. But even before taking this class, I began to see how flawed that understanding truly was. The courses we took during the first semester illuminated that the law did not develop in response to social values--as a reflection of what society wanted. Rather, the law has developed to its current state (and will continue to develop beyond this point into the future) not only as a result of the social forces colliding in each case, but also as a result of the judges' and lawyers' determinations of the implications and consequences those colliding social forces would have in a given context. The influence of organizations like ALEC and their supporters is just one of the forces colliding in the Trayvon Martin tragedy. But isn’t it ironic that the very notion that makes the law beautiful is also that which makes it look so ugly.

But irony is beautiful too. Not beautiful in the sense that it imparts aesthetic, visual or emotional pleasure on the viewer. Irony is beautiful to the beholder first because she gets it. She is in on the joke. She feels at once affirmed in her own ability to recognize the ironic situation for its very irony. However, the beautiful irony of the law is the aspect of it that instills fear of it in the public. The law holds people not at all, yet it destroys lives left and right.

The loss of Trayvon Martin’s life probably would not have been prevented even if Florida did not have a Stand Your Ground statute. George Zimmerman appears to be a man with a violent history living in a region with profound racial tensions. If he was ready to pull the trigger that night, I’m not sure that the presence of a different State self-defense statute was going to stop him. It is not the law that destroyed the life of Trayvon Martin. But the outrage over the non-arrest of Zimmerman has opened the eyes of much of the American public to ironic “beauty” of the law. A statute which was passed with the purpose of protecting the innocent man who is forced to defend himself is now being used to protect the morally and socially reprehensible acts of a killer. The public sees this, and recognizes yet another protection of injustice by the very social force that is supposed to be perpetuating justice. Instances like this—although most are on a much smaller scale—are exactly why the law is enormously feared, even though there is “nothing to it.”


To anyone who may still be interested in learning more about ALEC and the lobbying work they do under the guise of a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, please check out the article today in the New York Times found here.

-- DavidFrydman - 26 Mar 2012


Webs Webs

r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:05:05 - IanSullivan
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