As odd is it might seem, the next to last day of 2003 may someday be seen as a fateful moment for the traditional family. That is the when the United States Drug Enforcement Agency busted a pair of methamphetamine dealers in Philadelphia.
In a remarkable example of the corrosive force liberalism exerts on our society, the arrest of these drug dealers led to an opinion issued July 31 by U.S. District Judge Marvin Katz that -- if sustained by the Supreme Court -- could erase the special status marriage and the traditional family enjoy in American law.
On Dec. 30, 2003, DEA agents intercepted a FedEx package headed from Phoenix to a Philadelphia apartment shared by Steven Roberts and Daniel Mangini. The agents determined it contained 100 grams of methamphetamine and covertly completed its delivery, which was accepted by Mangini.
According to an indictment later filed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, federal investigators discovered that Roberts and Mangini "were in possession of drug paraphernalia inside the residence, including materials for packaging drugs, material for weighing drugs, and material for storing drugs and drug proceeds." They also discovered $2,788 in cash, a methamphetamine stash over and above the 100 grams in the FedEx package, and documents describing the roommates' "involvement in the distribution of methamphetamine."
It was an open-and-shut case, and Roberts and Mangini apparently knew it. When a judge let them out on bail -- on "the condition that they not leave the Eastern District of Pennsylvania without permission" -- they fled. Federal marshals tracked them to Florida and hauled them back to face justice.
The U.S. attorney issued an ominous press release declaring they could face "life imprisonment," and they soon cut a deal. Each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Mangini was sentenced to 18 months prison and five years of probation; Roberts to 30 months in prison and five years of probation.When they were released, both were subject to Standard Condition No. 9 of federal probation, which says that a convicted felon on probation "shall not associate with any person convicted of a felony, unless granted permission to do so by the probation officer." Mangini's and Roberts' probation officers did not give them permission to associate with each other.
This is when the conviction of two drug dealers was converted into an opportunity to change the legal status of the traditional family.
Assisted by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Roberts and Mangini brought a case in federal court.
The rules for enforcing Standard Condition No. 9, it turns out, include a blanket exception that allows a convicted felon on probation to associate with another convicted felon if they are spouses or blood relatives. Mangini and Roberts claimed this unfairly discriminated against them, violating their rights to "due process" and equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment.
"They considered, and still consider, themselves to be spouses," Judge Katz explained in his July 31 opinion. "Defendants were in every way a family."
The judge pointed out that the two men took in Roberts' niece as a foster child; and at one point in his opinion, he called them the niece's "two fathers."
Initially ruling on the case in January, Katz opined that the men's constitutional claim "may have merit," but that he could not rule on it because he lacked jurisdiction. Then in early July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Katz did have jurisdiction and sent the case back to him.
Because of this, he argued, probation rules must treat two unmarried men who claim an "intimate association" just as if they were a married couple or a brother and a sister. "The Probation Office has violated defendants' Fifth Amendment right to equal protection by refusing to grant defendants permission to associate with each other, while maintaining a policy of granting such permission to similarly situated individuals in other kinds of family relationships (i.e., siblings, parent and child, and spouses)," he said.
Many Americans have been worried that a federal judge will declare same-sex marriage a right. In fact, Judge Katz's decision goes beyond that. It suggests that government must treat all claimed "intimate associations" equally.
If that becomes the law of the land, three drug dealers living together in the same apartment, or even a commune full of 1960s hippies, will become the legal equivalent of mom and dad.