Monday, June 05, 2006


Speaking of Freedom

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who ruled against the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools, is fighting mad and, as far as I'm concerned, he has every right to be. As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jones, angered by accusations that he betrayed conservatives with his ruling and concerned about the growing number of politically motivated attacks on the independence of the judicial branch, is on a low-keyed campaign to educate the public about the importance of a judiciary beyond political partisanship.

Saying "I didn't check my First Amendment rights at the door when I became a judge," Jones has spoken in at least ten venues since the trial ended about the proper role of the judiciary.

Jones had anticipated he would be targeted by hard-line conservatives after concluding that teaching intelligent design in public schools as an alternative to evolution was unconstitutional.

But he was surprised by how ignorant some of his critics were, in his view, about the Constitution and the separation of powers among the three branches of government.

Conservative columnist, and founder of the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly, who launched a particularly crass attack, was one of the critics who most angered Jones:

Schlafly wrote that Jones, a career Republican appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 2002, wouldn't be a judge if not for the "millions of evangelical Christians" who supported Bush in 2000. His ruling, she wrote, "stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District."

As I said at the time, Schlafly's sentiment was one that was fully worthy of Boss Tweed. According to her, justice and the Constitution are political commodities that, having been bought, should stay bought. Judge Jones was less scathing than I but no less on point when he said, in a speech at the National Executive Committee Meeting of the Anti-Defamation League:

Ms. Schlafly's column makes it clear that she views me as an activist judge of the very worst kind. Yet in her column and within other criticisms directed at my opinion, time and again writers would omit to note the role legal precedents play as they relates how judges decide cases that come before them. That is, as a trial judge, I must follow the law as previously established by the higher courts and in particular by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The premise of Ms. Schlafly and some others seems to be that judges can and should act in a partisan matter rather than strictly adhering to the rule of law. Now, to those who believe that judges must cast aside precedents and rule as according to an agenda, let me say that I believe that the public's dependence upon the impartiality and the integrity of judges is absolutely essential to its confidence in our system of justice. It is especially important for our citizens to understand that judges must be impartial and that the independence of the judiciary is premised on a judge's pledge of freedom from partisan influences.

Judge Jones had to come under round-the-clock marshal protection due to threats that he received from various parts of the country after his ruling. Jones cited other cases as well:

The murder of a Chicago judge's husband and mother by a disgruntled litigant. The oral attacks - led by congressional Republicans - against a Florida judge who ruled that Terri Schiavo could be removed from her feeding tube. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter's suggestion that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be given "rat poison" for voting to uphold Roe v. Wade. (Coulter later added it was only a joke.)

Coulter may be a joke to any thinking person but the problem is that the description doesn't fit her target audience. It won't be funny if some bozo doesn't catch onto the fact that she is just being outrageous to hype the sales of her books.

Ed Brayton, at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has many more examples, including the fact that four of the Republican candidates for Alabama's highest court are openly advocating that states should ignore any Federal court rulings they disagree with.

This is nothing less than an all-out assault on our system of justice by people who either find freedom an unnecessary inconvenience or a heresy against their religion. The future of democracy in America literally hangs in the balance.

This is Orcinus territory. David Neiwert has been making the case for a very long time now that Coulter is at the front of the right-wing conveyer belt, where outrageous ideas get tossed out by dismissable figures, then slowly work their way into the discourse of more 'rational' characters. The attack on the judiciary is part of it.
It may be a conscious ploy on their part but I think it is more likely that Coulter, in order to mine the Fascista book buying public, has to say more and more outrageous things to rise above the din. In evolutionary terms, Coulter's rantings provide the variation from which ideas that are not actively selected against become fixed in the population of mouth-breathers.
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