Thursday, March 6, 2014

And Still They Elected John

In order to get the Constitution ratified, they had to promise a Bill of Rights.  It was hotly contested.  

There were those who thought it not merely unnecessary but dangerous.  The Constitution created a government of limited powers.  Of course, there were all sorts of things it couldn't do.  But listing them, declaring these things, was to risk the faulty understanding that whatever wasn't listed wasn't protected. 

Trust, those who held that view said. And remember, these were some of the same men who signed off on the Declaration of Independence with its ringing endorsement of rights.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
But others, well, they didn't trust.  Give the government an inch and it'll take a mile.  We need specific limitations.  And then some stuff that says this isn't the complete list.

Anyhow, you put it all together, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and you've got the system the framers crafted and the states ratified.  We can (and do) argue forcefully about what it all means and how to apply its strictures, but it's our framework.

Here's part of it.
Amendment VIIn all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
I'm not gonna parse it all out for you.  But here's a piece of it.  Everyone (by which they really do mean everyone) accused of a crime for which being locked away, even for only a short period of time, is entitled to a lawyer.  And as they say on the TV shows (and it's actually true, by god),
if you can't afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.
That's fundamental.  If you don't believe in that principle, you don't believe in our system, in our Constitution.  You don't have to, of course.  Lots of people think our system sucks.  But it's the one we have, the one we agreed to when we ratified the Constitution in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1791.

And if you happen to be a government official, it's also the one you swore an oath to uphold.  For richer for poorer. For better for worse.  In sickness and in health.  (Ooops, wrong oath, but the same idea, really.)

Which brings me to the United States Senate, where 7 Democrats joined the Republicans to defeat Debo Adegbile's nomination to head the civil rights division at DOJ.  They should be ashamed. 
Actually, they should be removed from office for violating their oath.

They didn't, after all, vote against him because he doesn't have the qualifications.  He's more than qualified.  They didn't vote against him because they think he's a crook.  They voted against him because
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Because Adegbile was litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund during the time it was representing Mumia, and he worked on one of the appeals.  And because Mumia killed Officer Daniel Faulkner.  
The NY Times reports that Bob Casey, Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, put it this way.
I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. At the same time, it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia.
Got that?  Everyone deserves a lawyer.  But lawyers who represent people we hate are scum and we sure as hell can't trust them.

There are, of course, lawyers who are scum.  (One thinks of the Fish or of the David Martin who represented Cameron Todd Willingham.)  But it's not because they represented bad people.  That's what we do some of the time.  We aren't our clients.  We can be good folks or not, but it's because of who we are and how we do our jobs, not because of who we represent.

John Adams, you may recall, represented British soldiers who fired on a mob of colonists at the Boston Massacre.
The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.
Despite the "Anxiety and Obloquy," Adams somehow managed to get himself elected President. 

Today he wouldn't stand a chance.  


  1. I heard about this on NPR this morning. What an outrage! Does that mean I would be considered a Nazi guard or sympathetic to them because for a brief moment I represented John Demjanjuk? Or that I am sympathetic to terrorists because I represented a couple of Guantanamo detainees? Such a bloody shame. Just like my ancestor John Adams, I am an attorney for the disenfranchised and unwanted. It doesn't mean I agree with what they may have done or what they were accused of doing. Such bullshit!!

    1. I concur with this opinion.