Should criticizing the Jones Act be punishable by death?

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A 2020 agenda item of a panel advising the federal government recommended that critics of the law be charged with treason
Yes, you read that right: Government and private maritime leaders at a private meeting in 2020 were presented with an agenda item that proposed charging prominent critics of the 1920 shipping law known as the Jones Act with treason — a federal crime punishable by death.

As Cato Institute trade policy analysts Colin Grabow and Scott Lincicome explained in a blog post on Tuesday, Cato researchers spent many months collecting internal emails from the U.S. Maritime Administration via the Freedom of Information Act process.

They said MARAD often was not cooperative with the researchers, citing various exemptions from the law to justify withholding information. Ultimately, however, “after months of appeals, repeated missed deadlines to provide promised information and threats of legal action on our part, MARAD finally sent the required materials last month.”

And after reading through what MARAD sent, Grabow and Lincicome said, “we now can understand why the agency was so reluctant to comply with the law.”

They said that toward the end of the 41‐​page document “is what appears to be a set of recommendations related to a March 2020 meeting of the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Committee’s International Shipping Subcommittee. Among them: ‘Charge all past and present members of the Cato and Mercatus Institutes with treason.'”

Grabow, who also is a Grassroot Scholar, and Lincicome said “it’s impossible for us to determine who made this request and whether MARAD ever considered it, [but] … it’s undeniably true that someone who sits among government officials in meetings with MTSNAC suggested charging American citizens with treason, a federal crime punishable by death, due to their political speech. This is manifestly antithetical to the values of a free society.”

In addition, they said, “it’s also undeniably true … that this opinion — and many other, less‐​salacious ones in support of the Jones Act — are permitted or even welcomed at the supposedly impartial government agency charged with overseeing the nation’s waterborne transportation system. Devotion to the Jones Act in the halls of MARAD and among rent‐​seeking members of the domestic maritime industry is apparently so strong that equating scholarly criticism of the law with treason didn’t even elicit the batting of a bureaucratic eyelash.”

To read the entire blog post, go here. See also Grabow’s post from yesterday, “Why Risk ‘Treason’ Charges Over the Jones Act?”

Other recent reports about this outrageous story include, from Wednesday, Scott Shackford“Somebody in the Shipping Industry Wants Opponents of the Jones Act Charged with Treason,” Reason; John Hugh Demastri“Federal Advisory Group Suggested Charging All Employees Of Libertarian Think Tanks With Treason,” Daily Caller; “Somebody within the delivery business needs Jones Act opponents to be charged with treason,” Thajobs; and Alex Tabarrok“Treason,” Marginal Revolution.

And from Tuesday: Veronique de Rugy, “It’s Not ‘Treason’ to Want to Repeal the Jones Act,” NR Capital Matters; Veronique de Rugy, “It’s Time To Repeal the Jones Act,” Discourse Magazine; and the article that first reported on it, Haley Byrd Wilt“How the Jones Act Sparked Calls of Treason,” The Dispatch.

Finally, Grabow, one of the nation’s foremost Jones Act critics, is slated to appear in Hawaiii in early December for a forum on the Jones Act sponsored by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii — assuming he hasn’t been charged with treason. Stay tuned for details.

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