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January 25, 2013

Slate's Explainer: Can states exile people?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

There are several arguments against interstate banishment: It's cruel and unusual punishment; it takes away a citizen's right to travel; and it's arguably a form of double jeopardy. The more practical concern is that it could lead to a dance of the lemons, as each state tries to turn its neighbor into a prison colony, thereby avoiding the expense of imprisonment.

That's exactly what happened in the early days of English settlement in North America. Great Britain exiled as many as 50,000 convicts to the New World prior to U.S. independence. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony also sent their undesirables away. In their first year, the Puritans banished up to 10 people, or 1 percent of their population, and continued to cast people off for decades, until the crown ordered them to stop.

The Puritans employed banishment for all sorts of crimes. Adultery, sodomy and bestiality often resulted in exile. A Capt. Stone was sent away for telling a magistrate that he was more a "just ass" than a justice. The Puritans also banished religious heretics, including Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, who went on to found Rhode Island. Hutchinson and other heretics were never charged with heresy, per se, but with crimes such as disturbing the peace because the Puritans feared King Charles I wouldn't allow them to banish people for minor religious disagreements.

Rives Miller Grogan, the protester exiled from D.C. on Tuesday, was charged under laws that require D.C. authorities to "preserve the peace and secure the Capitol from defacement."

Got a question about today's news? ask-the-explainer@yahoo.com.

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