- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

'We let science and fact guide our work

Steven Milloy would do his own credibility a great favor if he were to apply the same level of scrutiny to his own work that we do to ours at the National Academies ("Poisoning the arsenic debate," May 4).

We stand strongly behind the conclusions and recommendations in our 1999 arsenic report and are pleased that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman has asked us to undertake a follow-up study on the same topic.

The makeup of committees assembled by the National Research Council (the operating arm of the National Academies) is completely outside the influence of agencies that fund our studies. In initiating our studies, often at the behest of Congress or the federal agencies, we assemble our committees following explicit procedures that protect against outside influence. Their findings — based on the best available scientific evidence — often are critical of the agencies that sponsor them, and, in fact, we have issued a number of reports criticizing the EPA in particular. A recent study, for example, spelled out weaknesses in the EPA´s scientific program and what needed to be done to strengthen it.

Furthermore, to set the record straight about the expertise of our committees, they are made up of accomplished, top-notch scientists from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. Members of these honorific societies play a substantial part in assembling our committees, as well as serving as anonymous peer reviewers of our reports.

It is important to underscore here that all of our studies undergo peer review before release to ensure that each is based on sound science.

Finally, let me say that each study we undertake is a human endeavor and must stand on its own upon public release. Given our track record with respect to the impact we have had, and continue to have, on public policy, the work of the academies is considered to be of the highest quality available to policy-makers who are grappling to make difficult decisions on important public policy matters.

We know the work we do can have enormous influence; as such, we let science — and fact — guide our work.


E. WILLIAM COLGLAZIER

Executive officer

National Research Council

Washington

Moral leadership and the death penalty

Contrary to William Murchisons arguments, it is not bad news that many in our society oppose the death penalty ("Thoughts on the death penalty," Commentary, May 4). Mr. Murchison marginalizes those who oppose capital punishment as the self-consciously compassionate, the merely sentimental or the theologically well-meaning (i.e. the pope). He could, however, use these same arguments against the protection of the unborn, the infirm and the feeble aged.

Mr. Murchison argues that the goal of those opposed to capital punishment is the "outright abolition of the state´s right to kill even a Timothy McVeigh." However, the issue of capital punishment is not about Timothy McVeigh — there is no punishment that could recompense his crime. It is about U.S. moral leadership.

The United States is losing its position as moral leader in the wold. We cannot accuse other states and nations of human rights abuse while we continue this primitive practice. Are executions performed in the United States really qualitatively superior to those practiced by other nations? When, for example, women are stoned for adultery in another country, is it the religious law against adultery or the punishment that the United States denounces? Can we continue to do so when we also punish with death?

It is time for this country to assume a higher moral stance. The United States should adopt the doctrine that all life is sacred, and that we must always preserve life — with the exceptions of national defense or to halt crimes that threaten the lives of others.

As Mr. Murchison points out, we must end evil. Responding to evil with a lesser evil does not break the cycle.


RUSS BREIGHNER

Arlington

Deadline extension for overseas ballots violated Florida law

In an excerpt from his otherwise exhaustive coverage of the 2000 Election controversy, "At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election," Bill Sammon failed to note that the Gore campaign did not raise the issue that no absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day should have been counted ("Stiffing the troops serving overseas," May 8).

The counting of "late overseas ballots," which heavily favored Republican candidate George W. Bush, was in complete opposition to Florida Statute Title IX, Chapter 101.67(2), which declares: "All marked absent electors´ ballots to be counted must be received by the supervisor by 7 p.m. the day of the election."

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) passed by Congress in 1986 says that, if a state holds its primary elections late in the year and citizens overseas need more time to vote, the president can enter into agreements with state governments to extend the period during which absentee ballots can be received. Congress, however, has no constitutional power to require states to extend the absentee ballot period. Congress acknowledged this fact in the UOCAVA. The act neither extends the voting period nor commands states to extend the period. Instead, it acknowledges that it is dependent upon a state´s voluntary compliance.

The Florida statute (passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor) requires that all absentee ballots must be received by the day of the election to be counted.

A past Florida secretary of state, however, had signed a "consent decree" with the federal government agreeing to accept overseas ballots as late as 10 days after Election Day. This consent decree was certainly illegal. The secretary of state on her own, or at the urging of an executive official, cannot simply agree to override a state law that is clearly within the authority of the state legislature.

Hence, there was a good argument for throwing out all of the overseas ballots received after the election ballots that provided Mr. Bush with his margin of victory.

Although this issue was raised by the Coalition for Local Sovereignty in our Supreme Court brief supporting the plenary power of the Florida Legislature, and a suit was eventually brought by a lawyer in Florida, the Gore campaign refused to raise or embrace the issue. This issue was still being adjudicated in court when Mr. Gore conceded the election.

So, it is not true that the Gore campaign did everything legally possible. We also believe that the issue of "consent decrees" remains important and needs to be resolved. State officials have a responsibility to enforce state law, and they may not refuse to enforce a valid state law, or substitute something completely contradictory, simply at the request of federal officials.


PAUL CLARK

Director

Coalition for Local Sovereignty

Washington


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