The Klingons in Florida

Linda Greenhouse’s column in this morning’s New York Times discusses an absolutely appalling policy being applied in Florida. It is aimed at illegal immigration, but I hesitate to classify it as an immigration policy, because it is aimed squarely at young citizens whose parents lack documentation. The state refuses to authorize residential tuition rates for these young resident citizens who enroll at Florida’s public colleges.

It’s as if Worf, from Star Trek the Next Generation, is making policy in Florida. Klingons, as you may (or may not) recall, believe that “dishonor” passes from parent to child. Several episodes of the series drew their dramatic impact from the viewers’ sense of the terrible injustice of holding Worf responsible for crimes his father was alleged to have committed.

Klingons are fictional. Rick Scott, the criminal who is governor of Florida (I use the word deliberately; his company defrauded Medicare of billions) unfortunately is not.

As Greenhouse notes, the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids punishing children for the crimes of their parents.

““Corruption of blood” was a familiar feature of the common law in England. A person found guilty of treason and certain other crimes would be barred from passing his estate on to his children, who would thus inherit nothing but the corrupted blood line. The framers of the United States Constitution considered and forcefully rejected the concept. Article III, the judiciary article, contains this sentence: “The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attained.” As James Madison expressed the thought more directly at the time, the purpose was to prevent Congress “from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author.”

There are two questions here, both pertinent: Where was Florida’s Attorney General while officials were deciding to implement a policy so clearly at odds with what the Constitution requires? And perhaps more importantly, what happened to these policymakers’ human decency?