Silverglate Opinion on Boston Calling

WGBH COMMENTARY
Boston Calling: Crime? Or Politics As Usual?

By Harvey Silverglate

The media commentary that followed the surprising (to me, and to many others) August 7th federal extortion conviction of Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, senior aides to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, misses the point as to why this verdict, and the prosecution that culminated in this result, are so dangerous to civil society and, not so incidentally, to all of our civil liberties.

The federal extortion statute suffers from a vagueness problem, such that it is impossible to discern a clear line between illegal pressure to obtain what is not due you, and perfectly lawful pressure that a labor union and its allies may (and very often do) exert on a recalcitrant non-union or anti-union employer. In the absence of such a line, labor union officials and their political allies, including the likes of Brissette, Sullivan and Walsh, risk indictment while performing rather ordinary political tasks.

In other words, this indictment and especially the conviction place intimidating power in the hands of federal prosecutors and consequently can deter elected officials from performing the duties that those who elected them have a right to expect. Walsh, a former labor union official who was elected with strong labor support, was obviously going to be a pro-labor, rather than a pro-management, mayor.

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