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Plus ça change l'identité ...


Keith Gaddie October 30th, 2008

One of my favorite motion pictures is "Gattaca," an Andrew Niccol vehicle for Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. This dystopian vision of a genetically engineered future has as its central premise...

One of my favorite motion pictures is "Gattaca," an Andrew Niccol vehicle for Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. This dystopian vision of a genetically engineered future has as its central premise the concept of undeniable, verifiable identity.

For good or for ill, science is catching up with "Gattaca." Issues of science and identity are fundamental to our core systems of both justice and the electoral franchise. There is a crisis of confidence and concerns of subjectivity that accompany this new age of identity.

The coming session offers the Oklahoma Legislature the opportunity to do necessary housekeeping on small matters of identity and equal protection that can create huge confidence in the institutions of Oklahoma.

First, the Legislature and governor need to get together and create a new judicial institution " a special appeals court to deal with criminal appeals related to death penalty cases and also major crimes involving scientific evidence such as DNA evidence. Controversies in this decade regarding state expert misconduct with scientific evidence, the emergence of comprehensive DNA data banks to retest convicted offenders, and the mistakes and difficulties juries have with scientific evidence lead to multiple opportunities for appeal. Create a special appellate court that specializes in these scientific evidence issues. For that matter, the feds could do it too, in order to manage the load of the federal appeals system.

Special courts are nothing new " we have them in military law at the federal level. And many states divide their state appellate courts between civil and criminal appeals. The new age of science demands a court that can understand these sophisticated scientific issues that were totally unanticipated by the constitutional framers of national and state government.

Second, the Legislature needs to visit the inconsistencies in sentencing related to drug-related crimes. We can be creative in the use of alternative sentencing, thereby lowering incarceration costs. We can normalize sentences across similar offenses " currently, crack gets you more time than crystal meth, which gets you more time than cocaine. Normalized sentences also reduce the racial disparities in prosecution and sentencing that currently falls disproportionately on black offenders (and which therefore might be an equal protection violation). And, because felon disenfranchisement is a tenet of Oklahoma law, unequal sentencing by race could constitute a potential voting rights issue.

Third, related to voting rights: Let's get a voter photo ID law on the books in Oklahoma. The odds of fraud by identity are very small. However, the confidence of the public in the integrity of the vote has been shaken. When there is the appearance of corruption, it is possible for the Legislature to regulate a fundamental right or liberty. Campaign finance laws regulate free speech, a First Amendment right, because regulating money diminishes the appearance of corruption. The vote, which is a fundamental state right, can be regulated in a similar fashion to ensure integrity.

All the Legislature needs to do is guarantee that everyone gets easy access to photo identification at no cost in order to ensure that they do not create an equal protection violation. 

Welcome to Gattaca.

Gaddie is professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and president of the Southwestern Political Science Association.

 
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