Obama, Holder powerless to change ‘stand your ground’ laws

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Although both President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have repeatedly criticized the “stand your ground” laws common to most states, they’re powerless to do anything about them short of complaining.

Since March of 2012 when the Zimmerman case first came to public attention, Florida’s “stand your ground” law has come under fire, with both Obama and holder calling for their review. While they’re free to review all they like, legal experts agree that there’s little they can do beyond that, according to The Hill.

“There’s little the Department of Justice can do,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told The Hill. “States are allowed to have their own criminal laws, including self-defense laws. DOJ may be able to pursue civil rights charges in individual cases, but it has no authority to overturn state laws.”

Former Congressional Black Caucus chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and whose background is in law agrees.
“I don’t think it can be done from here,” Cummings said. “It’s something that’s going to have to be done by the state legislatures.”

Thirty-one states have adopted some form “stand your ground” legislation, according to Wikipedia.

The Hill reported:

Following the verdict, the Justice Department announced it would consider bringing a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman, and on Friday President Obama said that the laws need to be examined to see whether they “encourage” violence.

“If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” Obama said at Friday’s surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.

Holder is even more vehemently opposed, claiming, “It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”

His public statements may have the opposite of its intended effect, however.

“If anything, Holder’s opposition to stand your ground may make it harder to obtain reforms in the Republican-led states where such laws are commonly found,” Winkler said.

Congressional Black Caucus members are considering a number of bills in response to the Zimmerman verdict, including one that would give states financial incentive to repeal stand your ground.

“They are a menace to Americans in general, and especially to African American youths,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. said of stand your ground laws.

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