What Judicial Activism REALLY Looks Like

23 11 2010

For the past couple of years, we’ve been hearing lots of imbeciles ranting about “judicial activism”. This charge is most often raised when one political cesspool or another is upset with some court ruling. A lot of this comes from what passes for conservatives, but liberals do it as well. Not as much or as loudly anymore, but neither group has clean hands when it comes to leveling this particular nonsense charge in order to get votes. There have been a few cases of what might be considered “judicial activism” by more than one side of our political duopoly, but they’re usually few and far between and rarely as utterly brazen as the tale I will now unfold.

It seems that the town of Clarksville, TX is still living in the stone age, complete with good ol’ boy politics … and justice. I could have sworn Jim Crow had been relegated to the depths of our barbaric past where it belongs, but the “law enforcement” folks in Clarksville seem to be doing their best to keep the bad old traditions alive.

After a black man (Kevin Conway) sold some marijuana to a Sheriff’s informant, a raid was staged on the house where the Conway lived. The raid consisted of just about everybody involved in law enforcement in town- including the prosecutor, for some bewildering reason. They waited until 10:30 PM, when the house was full of relatives for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, then they burst in without warning-or knocking. Everyone in the house was arrested, as was another family member who’d been sitting in his car outside with his girlfriend. When the homeowner- Virgil Richardson, a respected high school coach with no criminal record- asked to see the search warrant, the Sheriff told him several times that he would show it to him, then eventually got around to pulling what looked like a cash register receipt from his pocket and waving it in the air briefly in front of Virgil’s face before returning it to his pocket. Apparently, these small-town hayseed cops had never heard of Mapp v Ohio from 1961, where a similar paper-waving incident took place.

It eventually turned out that the Sheriff didn’t actually have a warrant at the time, although one was quickly requested and signed- about 20 minutes after the raid started. I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court ruled that this sort of thing was illegal in Mapp v Ohio, but I’m not a lawyer- or even a lawn-care professional. During this illegal search, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines were discovered in a shed behind the house. The shed was locked, there was only one key, and that key had been found in the pocket of Kevin Conway.

After a brief interrogation, it came to light that the primary suspect, Kevin Conway, had been allowed to stay at the normally empty house while Virgil Richardson was out of town working. Conway confessed that the drugs were his, but claimed that the rest of the family did not know that he was dealing. Despite the lack of evidence that anyone else knew or had access to the drugs, the entire family was charged with manufacturing and possessing drugs with intent to distribute- which carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Enter the lawyers. Virgil Richardson had some money, and so did his family, so they hired a top-notch defense attorney. This attorney kept hammering away at the town’s case- first getting the prosecutor replaced by one from the state, and then eventually getting the Sheriff to admit that the warrant hadn’t even been signed until well after the raid was already over. The state prosecutor looked at the evidence and filed a motion for dismissal of charges against everyone except Kevin Conway (who had confessed), “in the interests of justice”.

The story should have ended there, except for the local judge. He refused to sign the dismissal order because the Richardson family had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the town, the prosecutor, and the entire police force. This judge offered the defense attorneys a “quid pro quo“- drop the lawsuit and he’d sign the dismissal. After he got told to pound sand, he upped the ante: drop the lawsuit and testify against the rest of the family in exchange for the judge signing the dismissal order.

Even in Texas, you don’t try to bluff with a six-high hand when the other guy has three aces showing. It took a while for the defense attorneys to get the judge replaced by the state, but they did. The new judge didn’t even bother with a dismissal order- he immediately exonerated the Richardsons. It was three years later, of course, and  too late for Virgil’s career. He’d been fired as soon as the news of his arrest reached the school board where he worked. He’s also worried that the utterly bogus arrest and the charges filed against him will result in a lot of additional attention from law enforcement. He is scared (justifiably, in my opinion) that every cop who runs his plates will use the arrest as an excuse to pull him over and harass him. The two million dollar lawsuit probably makes this scenario even more likely.

So here we have a family getting raked over the coals of the so-called “justice system” for three years by a real-life activist judge, despite the total lack of any evidence that they had committed any crimes. Some variation of this particular event is probably happening in several other small towns across this country even as you read this, but the victims aren’t wealthy enough to afford legal counsel good enough to fight city hall and win. How many innocent lives are being destroyed in this country every year by over-zealous police, prosecutors, and judges?

Too many. Even one is several thousand too many. It is better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent be wrongly convicted. The law is supposed to protect those without power against the abuses of those who do. The law is supposed to protect the people from the injustices of government.  There is no excuse for allowing this in our country.

And now, we return to Ed Howdershelt‘s Four Boxes. “There are Four Boxes to be used in defense of liberty: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. Please use in that order.” It is our duty as citizens to stand up to this sort of abuse of power. Speak up- loudly and frequently. Do not allow abuses of power to go unnoticed and therefore unchallenged. Vote- every time. Your vote is the most potent weapon you have. Run for office, too. Make sure you speak up about why you voted as you did. Take the bastards to court. Serve as a juror.

We, the People, must use those first three boxes to the utmost to fight injustices such as what happened to Virgil Richardson and his family. If we do not, then sooner or later those injustices will sweep away all of our liberties. Then we would be forced to open that last box, which would spell the end of this country.

Current status: disgusted

Current music: Closer to the Edge by 30 Seconds to Mars

The Security of a Free State?

15 11 2010

We, the People. Those three words should be genetically engraved into the brains of every American. The meaning of those three words is- or should be- self evident: The people of the United States are supposed to rule this country. The Preamble to the US Constitution starts off with those three words precisely to make clear the fact that the people are supposed to hold all the cards when it comes to government.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Reading further into the Constitution further clarifies this inescapable fact of American government. Even the most casual perusal reveals that the Constitution is written to limit the power of government. Several of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights start with or include some variation on “Congress shall make no Law …”, and then go on to list a bunch of things the government cannot do. Not things the People cannot do. The 9th and 10th Amendments make it even more clear:

IX-The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

For those of you who didn’t pay attention in Civics class, allow me to translate: any particular right or privilege, whether or not it is specifically written into the Constitution, is reserved for the People.

X- The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Once again for those who slept through Civics: All rights and privileges not specifically assigned to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the People.

Any moderately sentient creature in this country should therefore be aware of the fact that the government is supposed to be limited in power. How, then, have we come to the quasi-police state currently in effect in these United States?

What am I talking about? How about someone who decides that he or she doesn’t want to be either irradiated by a backscatter x-ray device or groped by low-paid government functionaries? Some would say, “Too bad. Submit to getting molested by the Gummint or don’t fly.” Sorry, Charlie. That is as much a lie as “I promise I won’t cum in your mouth” or “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” If you decide that you aren’t willing to be groped or irradiated by government stooges once you have entered the security area, you no longer have the option of just leaving and turning in your ticket. You are required to complete the screening. In at least one recent instance, the victim of this government-sanctioned sexual assault decided that he would rather walk, but was accosted by security goons and told he would not be permitted to leave the airport unless he completed the screening which he had refused to allow to begin.

Or how about the young man facing seven years in prison in New Jersey for following both the letter and spirit of the law? The victim in question was moving from Colorado to New Jersey to be closer to his son, who lived with his ex-wife. One day, as he was driving from his mother’s house (where he was staying until he got moved into an apartment) to his new apartment, dear old mom decided that he was a little despondent over some squabbles with his ex and started to call 9-1-1 out of concern. She changed her mind without talking to anyone, but the police responded anyway. Once they heard her story, they called the young man on his cell and asked him to return to his mother’s house. Once there- despite the fact that they determined he was not a danger to himself or others- the police searched his car and found the three firearms he was carrying to his new place in the trunk. These firearms were properly packed away in locked containers in the trunk of his car, without ammunition, in accordance with federal and New Jersey gun laws. The police arrested him anyway. At his trial, the judge refused to allow him to present evidence that he was complying with state and federal laws for transporting firearms, and refused to answer questions from the jury during deliberation about any exemptions to the draconian New Jersey laws regarding firearms. As a result, a man with no prior criminal record who was scrupulously following state and federal laws was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Then there is the increasing frequency of prosecutorial misconduct resulting in the imprisonment of completely innocent citizens. In the latest such outrage, a man spent 15 years behind bars because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence and deliberately lied in court to send an innocent man to jail and pad his win-loss ratio. When this misdeed was finally uncovered and the man was freed, he found he had no legal recourse against the prosecutor who framed him. He can’t even get compensated by the state for wrongful imprisonment, because the law doesn’t allow for such compensation except for people freed by DNA evidence.

How could these events be reconciled with the  traditional American sense of justice or a supposedly free society? They can’t. We, the People, have allowed the pinheads in pinstripes who infest our nation’s capitol to filch away our liberties in the hopes of gaining a false sense of security against a host of non-existent existential threats. There are, in fact, a lot of people who would dearly love to kill lots of Americans. The security theater in place to supposedly “protect” us from these people has not substantially decreased the probability of such an attack, but it has made huge strides in increasing the power of the government at the expense of individual liberty. All over the country, police agencies are increasingly treating the citizens they allegedly serve as enemy combatants, while unctious politicians pass ever more laws to restrain the power of the people and vastly increase the power of the government, and well-meaning fools elect poltroons who will cater to their fears and whims. Take a look at the people you elected to represent you in Congress. How many of those people do you think will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” if it means losing the next election or turning down the next bribe? Whatever number you came up with, divide by ten. The result will still be far too high, but will be closer to reality.

We, the People, are allowing our elected leaders to pull the wool over our eyes and steal our country away from us. We have allowed professional politicians to hijack our government- which is supposed to be “by the People, of the People, and for the People.” How much legislation out of Washington has been by, for, or of the People recently? As far as I can tell, it has all been by, for, and of the interests of a well-connected few at the expense of the People. And we are letting it happen.

All of those new Congresscritters you dolts sent to Washington this past election should be sent a clear message from we, the People: “That cushy job in DC is yours on a probationary basis. Any hint of putting your own self interest before that of the country will be repaid with expulsion in 24 short months. Ignore this warning at your peril.

Science fiction author Ed Howdershelt once said there are Four Boxes to be used in defense of liberty: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. Please use in that order. We are currently using those first two boxes. I am using the first box to encourage the rest of you to use the second. If our elected representatives fail to adequately represent us in accordance with the US Constitution, vote the bastards out. If they pass laws which diminish the liberties of Americans, open up that third box and take the bastards to court. We are supposed to be sovereign in this country, and its high time the tax-fattened swine in DC get reminded of that fact. But it is up to us.

Current status: Pissed off

Current music: Lizstomania by Phoenix

Big Brother

8 11 2010

I imagine that there are a lot of people who think the title of this post refers to a relentlessly lame TV program. Everyone else should be aware of its more sinister meaning from George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother was the manifestation of the omnipresent and despotic government in the novel, who was watching you … forever. We’re a few decades late, but the fine folks at the Pennsylvania Office of Homey Scrutiny Homeland Security (OHS) are doing their best to make Orwell’s dystopian imaginary world become a real-life nightmare.

It seems that the OHS in Pennsylvania contracted a local company to gather intelligence on potential terrorists. Problems arose when it turned out that the definition of “potential terrorist” was amazingly broad. For example, anyone participating in a political protest could be investigated because the protests might cause disruptions for businesses. Oddly enough, this same contractor provided intelligence-gathering services for several large companies across the country. This is probably how that exceedingly loose definition of a terrorist event came to be.

Worse still, these supposed “terrorists” were identified as such to local law enforcement agencies throughout Pennsylvania- and presumably also to those companies who made up the bulk of this contractor’s customers. For the alleged crime of protesting for or against gay rights (one example of the so-called “terrorist” activities tracked during this domestic surveillance program), a citizen could be denied employment at one of the large corporations receiving these intelligence services. Yes, Virginia. Participating in a peaceful, legal protest (the protection of which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution) could result in getting put on a terrorist watch list. Remember when top law enforcement and government officials kept telling us, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear“? It turns out they were lying. Who woulda thunk it? Aside from anybody with an IQ above room temperature, that is.

As soon as the story broke in a local paper, the outgoing Governor of Pennsylvania immediately canceled the project and ordered that the contract not be renewed. Fear not, fans of authoritarian imposition into people’s lives. The incoming Governor is on your side. He’s the lovely person who- in his capacity as Pennsylvania Attorney General– decided to use the power of the State to force Twitter to identify account-holders who were critical of him.

There is no justification under our laws for this sort of wide-ranging surveillance of US citizens. Exercising one’s right to peacefully protest or criticize political figures does not a terrorist make. Our freedoms are guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Amendments thereto. Fear of just this sort of Byzantine abuse of power is why those guarantees are in the Constitution. With all that, why are our elected officials (and the lackeys they appoint to positions of authority) think they can get away with these illegal and un-Constitutional actions?

Because you told them so. You continued to vote for these creatures despite their intrusions into the private lives of your fellow Americans. When these pompous slimewads screeched and squawked about how “turrists are gonna gitcha“, you willingly acceded to their demands for more power and less supervision. You obligingly trembled in fear whenever the magic words were spoken- terrorist, homosexual, immigrant, communist, socialist, liberal, Mexican, etc., and eagerly offered up your precious freedoms in exchange for imaginary security and safety. Even more, you berated and belittled those who warned against giving more power to the government. To their discredit, the people who loudly and passionately proclaim their mistrust of any government organization as part of their political philosophy were the loudest and shrillest voices calling for sacrificing our precious liberties in the vain hope of safety.

We, the People, are supposed to be better than this. We are supposed to be a shining beacon of liberty and independence for the rest of the world to emulate. Instead, we are emulating the worst excesses of our enemies. Our elected officials- the people you voted into office- are willfully complicit in this collective raping of American liberty, and people are cheering them on as they do so.

Some would say, “I didn’t vote, so you can’t blame this on me!” Bullshit. Roughly 40% of the registered voters in this country voted in the last election. Those who did not vote- despite being registered- outnumbered those who did. This means that a vocal minority was permitted to shape the incoming government for at least the next two years. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice“. By choosing not to vote, you allowed the whackjobs at the fringes of political discourse to dictate the nature and direction of that discourse. And now, we all have to live with the political consequences of your laziness. You must be so proud.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: I Want You To Want Me by Cheap Trick