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Taking Away Your Drinking License

I don’t know what they’re putting in the water in Wisconsin, but clearly one judge has been hitting the sauce or gone off his meds. In an opinion piece — a rant, really — Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Harold V. Froehlich virtually foams at the mouth with his outrageous suggestion that second offense drunk drivers should “lose the right to purchase alcoholic beverages FOR LIFE” [his emphasis]. Now before you think I’m in favor of drunk driving, I’m not. But we need a little perspective here. Even murderers are eligible for parole after paying their debt to society. But Judge Froehlich seems to believe that people who drive drunk are apparently worse than murderers and deserve no chance or chances to redeem themselves.

No offense to his lordship, but I hardly think the judge’s perspective is reasonable. He started practicing law in 1962 and has been a judge nearly thirty years, making him undoubtedly around seventy. I’m sure he’s seen a lot in that time to make him feel the way he does. But whatever perspective he brings to this debate is necessarily skewed by seeing the worst examples through the lens of sitting on the bench in judgment. He has other ideas, as well, all equally extreme and irrational.

He begins his screed by saying just how wrong he believes advocates for lowering the drinking age are, based of course on his experience on the bench. Not surprisingly, he claims “some college presidents” are in favor of this, but I’d hardly characterize 130 college and university professors as merely “some,” and that’s just the ones brave enough to sign the Amethyst Initiative. But having worked and written briefs in a law office for over eight years, I understand how carefully words are usually chosen by people in that profession. He meant to use the word “some,” knowing full well how inaccurate it was because it gave a certain slant to his view. After detailing his personal experiences on the bench and going through what’s been tried within the law, he admits that higher fines, longer jail time and treatment aren’t working.

“However, we as a society must find new and effective ways to control and eradicate this problem. We must think outside the box.” True enough, and there are countless possibilities. We could, for example, build a truly usable system of mass transportation so that people did not have to rely on their cars to travel from place to place. What mass transit we have — at least in every case I’m aware of it personally — is inefficient, poorly managed, and does not actually go where people might want to travel. Car companies and oil companies bought up many mass transit systems in the 1950s, and shut them down so people had to rely on cars, making them quite wealthy in the process. We could, of course, reverse that trend though admittedly it would take some time and money to accomplish. But it is a solution, and one that’s “outside the box” for most people. So is lowering the drinking age and introducing alcohol education through both the school and he home.

But as you’d expect from a judge, lawyer and former Congressman, Froehlich instead goes with what he knows: more laws. And not just any old laws, he wants nothing short of another prohibition. Not a national one — that didn’t work — but a limited one. Oh, I’m sure a “limited” one will be much better. But just what is a “limited” prohibition. He essentially means that we impose prohibition on certain individuals.

Upon conviction for a second offense operating while under the influence of alcohol, the offender would lose the right FOR LIFE to enter a tavern or liquor store. The offender would lose the right to purchase alcoholic beverages FOR LIFE.

Wisconsin ID cards or driver’s licenses could be issued in a certain color. The color would indicate to taverns and liquor stores that the person with the ID card or driver’s license has no right to be on the premises or purchase alcoholic beverages. Likewise, all sellers of alcoholic beverages would be prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages to holders of the colored ID card or driver’s license.

Alcoholic beverages should be made less available. We should end all sales of alcoholic beverages in gas stations, convenience stores and grocery stores. Package sales of alcoholic beverages should be prohibited in taverns. All package sales of alcoholic beverages should be restricted to liquor stores only.

Taxes on all alcoholic beverages should be raised substantially to create funds for treatment centers for alcoholics and drunken drivers. Treatment and counseling should be free.

So beyond, just taking away a person’s right to purchase or drink alcohol forever (or even just be in a bar), he’s also trotted out the neo-prohibitionist playbook. Restricting where alcohol can be sold, making it harder for responsible and legal adults — that is the vast majority who drink — is a favorite of those against alcohol. He also wants responsible adults to foot the bill for the irresponsible minority in the form of higher taxes, again punishing the people who’ve committed the crime of choosing to have the occasional beer. I don’t disagree that “[t]reatment and counseling should be free” but if it’s a benefit to society as a whole — which presumably it would be — why should only people who drink alcohol pay for it?

That the judge sees no constitutional issues for restricting the freedom of movement for citizens who would already have paid their fine and/or done their time, I find quite frightening. I imagine he’s frustrated by gentler methods having been ineffective, at least from his perspective. But he’s not even answering his own call for thinking outside of the box to find a solution to the drinking and driving problem. Apart from taking away citizens’ rights, all of his suggestions are so far inside the box that I fully expect he’s a card-carrying member of MADD.

Believe it or not, our curmudgeonly arbiter was named Wisconsin judge of the year in 1998 by the state bar association. His current term of office as a circuit judge expires in 2012. I can only hope he comes up with some better ideas by then. Wisconsin has some wonderful craft breweries which contribute positively to the state, both economically and socially, and they should be celebrated. A society that would embrace prohibition might find that difficult to reconcile.

Surprisingly, I find that I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion, which is as follows. “It is time for society to find new ways to address this problem; the old ways are not working.” The “old ways” are certainly not working, but returning to the even older ways — prohibition, even a “limited” one — is complete and utter nonsense.


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