CAMDEN, Maine -- Let us stop to observe a few mileposts on the
downward path to the utter degradation of political discourse in this
A recent newspaper advertising campaign by "independent" groups
supporting President Bush shows a closed courtroom door with the sign,
"Catholics Need Not Apply," hanging on it. The ad argues that William Pryor
Jr., attorney general of Alabama and a right-wing anti-abortion nominee to
the federal appeals court, is under attack for his "deeply held" Catholic
Actually, Pryor is under attack because he's a hopeless
dipstick. That he also happens to be Catholic and anti-abortion has nothing
to do with his unfitness for the federal bench. The only person I know who
believes one's closely held religious and moral convictions should make one
ineligible for the federal bench is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia argued last year that any judge who is opposed to the death penalty
should resign, on account of it is the law.
By that reasoning, any judge who is opposed to abortion out of
deep moral conviction should also resign. Even though that would include
Scalia's resignation, an eventuation devoutly to be wished in my opinion, I
think he's wrong.
Pryor has said that Roe vs. Wade "ripped the Constitution and
ripped out the life of millions of unborn children." Hey, there's
objectivity for you.
His record on civil rights, states' rights and gay rights is
equally ideological. He has a record of incendiary comments, which certainly
bring into question his "judicial temperament." When the Supreme Court
delayed an execution in Alabama, Pryor called them "nine octogenarian
lawyers." He once prayed for "no more Souters," a reference to Justice David
The New York Times observed, "He has turned the Alabama attorney
general's office into a taxpayer-financed right-wing law firm." He has
argued against a key part of the Voting Rights Act and was the only state
attorney general to argue against the Violence Against Women Act. Who cares
if he's Catholic? He'd be a disgrace on the bench if he were a Buddhist.
Moving right on down the road to complete ideological madness,
we now have the House Judiciary Committee threatening to investigate the
sentencing records of every federal judge in the country for suspected
"political" bias. All this stems from the matter of James Rosenbaum, chief
judge for the Minnesota Federal District Court, who thinks sentencing
guidelines for low-level drug dealers are too harsh.
Is there anyone who doesn't think so? Even the Texas
legislature, that model of 19th century thinking, has decided we should
provide treatment for first-time small drug offenders, rather than locking
them up for years. Locking them up is getting to be a very expensive
proposition in our very broke state, but surely that had nothing to do with
After Rosenbaum's testimony, the Judiciary Committee, chaired by
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, prepared to subpoena Rosenbaum's records to see if
he had imposed any "unlawfully lenient sentences." In fact he had, giving
one guy four years (nine months below the guidelines) and another a month
less that the minimum recommended.
The sentencing guidelines are the consequence of a 1984 crime
law, passed at the height of the drug hysteria, that took effect in 1987.
Victoria Toensing, Rosenbaum's lawyer, said: "I was present at the creation
of those guidelines. May God forgive me for ever supporting them." Amen.
Look, these sentencing guidelines are awful. Everybody knows
they're awful, so now anyone who stands up and says so gets subpoenaed? Do
you realize how banana-republic this is? Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, one of the
many ornaments we have exported to Washington, claims the seven-member
Sentencing Commission is "systematically trying to lessen the drug
penalties." I should hope bloody so. If showing evidence of elementary
common sense is grounds for a subpoena, stick a fork in us, we're done.
The "Watch on the Rhine" quality of our public life these days
deserves serious attention. As one who studies the small, buried stories on
the back pages of major newspapers, I am becoming increasingly uneasy. This
is more than just, "Boy, do their policies suck." There's a creepy advance
of something more menacing than bad policies.
I keep thinking of Mussolini's definition of fascism: "Fascism
should more properly be called 'corporatism,' since it is the marriage of
government and corporate power." When was the last time we saw this
administration do something that involved standing up to some corporate
special interest in favor of the great majority of the people?
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
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