Justice Integrity Project
As the Supreme Court began its annual term on Oct. 3, I’d like to share suggestions below on how legal reformers — our team, in other words — can be much more effective in achieving results. That’s the dream. But the reality is that we face huge challenges that require new approaches to fight due process violations and other wrongdoing that appears to extend high into the legal system. These days, the general principles converge in the person of Clarence Thomas — associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and someone whom the FBI should vigorously investigate.
Like many, I thought about due process issues after Georgia executed Troy Davis on Sept. 21 despite powerful evidence casting doubt on the witness identifications prompting his conviction for a fatal shooting of an off-duty policeman. I published a column, “Troy Davis, Clarence Thomas and Georgia on Our Minds.” Organizers of an Oct. 1 street rally in Washington, DC then asked me to suggest practical next steps following hundreds of thousands of petition signatures protesting the execution. The next day, I reflected more about this during annual Red Mass ceremonies in Washington celebrating the law’s spiritual dimensions. Led by Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Catholic church leaders hosted six of the nine Supreme Court Justices – including Thomas and a likely majority of those who allowed Georgia to execute Davis. Other guests included White House Chief of Staff William Daley, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
At first impression, Saturday’s street rally had little in common with the magnificent service Sunday about 15 blocks away at the upscale Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. The 50 or so at the street rally were primarily black, modestly dressed, and strongly left-wing in politics. About half wore an “I am Troy Davis” sticker or similar tee-shirt to show solidarity with the executed man. Via a taped jailhouse interview by WPFW before his death, they heard Davis speak humbly about his wasted life, innocence and hopes for young people to avoid his mistakes in hanging out with the wrong crowd to be “cool.” The crowd doubled by the time the march reached the St. Stephen & The Incarnation Episcopal Church, with the demographics remaining roughly the same.
The audience at the Catholic service, by contrast, appeared to be about 1,000 in size and at least 95% white. The absence of all three female Supreme Court justices, each of whom is a Democrat, underscored a political dimension. More generally, the ceremony began with a magisterial procession of clergy and government powers. Incense and beautiful music soon filled the huge cathedral, which was built in 1899 and is famous for, among other things, the 1963 memorial service for President Kennedy.
But here’s why common ground is both possible and points the way to reform. Let’s start with my suggestions to the Troy Davis supporters:
1. Keep reaching out with one-on-one conversations, petitions, demonstrations and pressure for legislation.
2. Confront rights violations and corruption wherever trail leads — even to the top or within our own ”Team”
3. Expand “The Team” by gaining new allies.
4. Become the media, don’t wait for it.
5. Keep fighting for what’s right.
The ideas may seem too obvious to mention. But several twists during the last few days underscore the opportunities and pitfalls.
To begin on a positive note, I told those at the rally how my involvement with the Troy Davis and other death penalty protests began with word-of-mouth encouragement from friends, as described in my column last week. Trusted, private communications are an obvious way to prepare for rallies, petitions and protests — including such current ones as “Occupy Wall Street” occurring now in New York, and a similar protest planned Oct. 6 in Washington.
Attack Due Process Violations and Corruption
Much harder is my second suggestion to fight for a rule of law when suspicions involve high-ranking officials — and even those within our own political party or “team” suspected of serious shortcomings or fraud.
The most important such instance involves Clarence Thomas, left, whose two decades on the court this year were exposed as compromised by a host of financial and false statement scandals that require a serious criminal investigation. Last week, 20 congressional Democrats demanded just that in a Justice Department investigation. Thomas is a Republican. But Republicans should support such a probe to clear the air on such claims, which appear to be roughly comparable to those that forced the 1969 resignation of Associate Justice Abe Fortas. My overview Sept. 30 of the financial concerns is in several related articles appended below. But there is vastly more information available that deserves authoritative review, pro or con.
What’s most relevant now is the silence of many civic reform groups. For tactical, financial or partisan reasons, they tend to wait for someone else to make the most serious allegations against officials who are high up on the power structure, even when many commoners are imprisoned around the country for roughly similar conduct.
I’ve heard the excuses, but don’t buy them. The public is fed up with Washington corruption, cover-up and partisanship. The slogan “Lead, follow or get out of the way” has never been more timely. I’ve already written about the catalog of alleged horrors involving Thomas, and plan to write much more. Beyond that, the Obama administration has failed to investigate corruption, due process violations and cover-up that plagued the Bush administration. As a result, it is now deeply implicated in many of the scandals, including some of their own.
The Obama administration’s early insensitivity to due process was why our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project opposed the confirmation of Democratic Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, right. It’s also why protests remain justified against the government’s horrid violations of our privacy in warrantless telephone, email and airport searches. Also, the Obama administration has cooperated in the prosecution of Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, the most notorious of the Bush partisan frame-ups. Obama personnel have even argued that the government has the right to frame innocent people without court review. This was in the 2009 case of Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, in which the Obama Justice Department argued there is “no freestanding right not to be framed.”
The latest outrage is the drone-killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and another U.S.citizen in Yemen on Presidential say-so, with no court or other review of evidence. I watched the arguments in Washington’s federal court. This led a federal judge to rule that the suspect’s father had no right to challenge a Presidential death order because it is a “political question” beyond the power of the Constitution. A case analysis is here, and expert legal commentaries are below.
Expand ‘The Team’ with New Allies
Fortunately, I see on a regular basis in my work how productive alliances can be reached. My investigative sources against Republicans include courageous whistleblowers within that party, and vice versa regarding Democratic wrongdoing.
Let me use the Red Mass Sunday as an example, starting first with a brief bit of history. The ceremony began in medieval times. It is fostered in Washington by the John Carroll Society. It is named after the nation’s first Catholic archbishop, who was a pioneer also in advocating at the Constitutional Convention for separation of church and state, among other legal principles. Such a tradition can inspire. Speakers Sunday included Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and the Rev. Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi, the Society chaplain who spoke at a brunch after the mass.
More informally, Cardinal Wuerl and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, left, for example, were among those readily approachable for brief greetings from me or anybody else. By contrast, Justice Thomas, was virtually alone in promptly darting from his front table out a side door as the brunch concluded so that he need not endure any chance encounters. That’s his privilege of course, but over time it becomes part of his public image. More important than that personality snapshot was my opportunity before and after the ceremonies to exchange with other attendees insights about Thomas, suspicious developments in the Obama administration, and practical tips on the overall viability of reform efforts.
In sum, corruption and civil rights abuse are now far too widespread in the system to be exposed — much less uprooted — merely by partisan initiatives, much less an attack by “have-nots” against the “haves.” The Power Structure didn’t get its name for nothing. But most people on some level want to help country if fairly approached. Even Thomas, by all accounts, loves to exchange ideas with fellow conservatives, chat up court cafeteria personnel and other ordinary citizens whom he encounters in truly random ways, and reach out to children to inspire them.
Be ‘The Media’
As an additional tip for both judicial system reformers and victims alike, I’d suggest becoming part of “the media” instead of waiting for a professional to take interest. Almost every day I’m approached by someone who wants me to document a sad case history. But vast numbers of abuses and hardships exist. What is a reader going to do except tune out? Even most victims don’t have time to read about those in a similar plight, much less help each other. On Oct. 3, OpEd News published a blog on this point by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, shown at right. He is a distinguished scholar, former Wall Street Journal opinion editor and Reagan Administration official once highly influential among other powerful figures before he ramped up criticism of federal authorities. His most recent column, The Day America Died, says:
Readers ask me what they can do. Americans not only feel powerless, they are powerless. They cannot do anything. The highly concentrated, corporate-owned, government-subservient print and TV media are useless and no longer capable of performing the historic role of protecting our rights and holding government accountable.
If one thinks through the economics of today’s media it’s clear why “beat reporters” covering courts for newspapers, my job for five years, are increasingly dependent on prosecutors for information. For that and other reasons, complainants should learn to make their points concisely in published reader comments or other action-oriented communications in a three-part formula: 1) relevance to the topic of discussion; 2) summary of situation; and 3) what should a sympathetic reader do?
Almost any publication would print such a message, especially if it’s just three or four sentences. Presto! The victim is part of the media through self-help. Perhaps that’s not the get-of-jail-card or book deal that’s desired. But it’s a start – and very few benefit in major ways even if with a story is recounted at full-length by the mainstream media or a blog. To the contrary, my observation is that authorities try extra hard to seek ways to punish intended targets who manage to arouse public sympathy or void most of their original charges on appeal. Four of the prosecutions I’ve explored illustrate such reprisals: Those against Republicans Bernard Kerik and Charles Spadoni, and Democrats Siegelman and Louis Manzo, each available for examination on the “leading cases” section of our website.
Finally and most important, don’t give up the fight. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Carroll are among those who took big risks, and so should we. Those at the street rally last weekend chanted, “I am Troy Davis” with the understanding that we are all vulnerable to misidentification or other procedural injustices. That’s seems to be the view also of one-time arch-conservative Lord Conrad Black, once one of the top media barons in the English speaking world, Now, as illustrated in the appendix below, he is reduced to blogging from prison about his book describing the injustices of authorities.
Additional common ground is certainly possible. Here is the counsel from Cardinal Wuerl at the end of the John Carroll Society Red Mass brunch last weekend. He was speaking generally, of course, but that invites application to specific problems at hand:
“Invite someone else back to what we do,” Washington’s Archbishop told the civic- and spiritually-minded audience, citing inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI. “There is a better way, and I invite you to be a part of it.”
Full article at Justice Integrity Proje
Reprinted with the author’s permission.