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Durbin under fire for ‘Stand Your Ground’ inquiries

Photo of Chuck Ross
Chuck Ross
Reporter

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin is facing a firestorm of criticism after sending letters to hundreds of organizations trying to find out the depth of their relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The senator’s interest in ALEC is based on the stand your ground legislation that has become a focal point for liberal activists and lawmakers after the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. But his hometown newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, editorialized that the inquiries looked like “Durbin’s enemies list.”

In the August 6 letter sent to think tanks and corporations, Durbin wrote, “I am seeking clarification whether organizations that have funded ALEC’s operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model ‘stand your ground’ legislation.”

ALEC is a free-market organization of state legislators, businesses, and think tanks which has also focused on self-defense and gun rights legislation.

Durbin will convene the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights in September to investigate the law.  Stand Your Ground, which removes the duty to retreat in self-defense claims, was cited in the national discussion of the death of Trayvon Martin.

Initially, it was believed that Zimmerman would cite the Florida law — implemented in 2005 — in his self-defense claim in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  But the “stand your ground” law only came into play when the judge in the case included the relevant portions of the law in jury instructions. Zimmerman and his lawyers waived his right to a “stand your ground” hearing and instead relied on a classic self-defense claim.

Martin’s family and other activists have been focusing heavily on overturning the law throughout the country.  Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton said in a speech “We have to change the law so that this doesn’t happen to someone else’s child.”

As Durbin noted in his letter, ALEC released a statement last year saying that it was eliminating the task force that had approved “stand your ground” but that the organization had never changed its stance on the law.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz released a statement today blasting Durbin’s inquiry:

“Senator Durbin’s request for ALEC supporters to announce an official position on gun laws in advance of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing is inappropriate, and I encourage recipients not to respond,” Cruz said. “While Senator Durbin is free to make any inquiry he likes, in my view this effort represents an inappropriate governmental intrusion into the personal and political views of American citizens and businesses.”