Dover Judge Speaks On Confronting Conservative Attacks on Precedent

Republican Judge John Jones who heard the Dover case and ruled against teaching intelligent design spoke earlier this week as reported by the Bennington Banner:

“If you don’t understand your rights, I think everyone understands that you risk losing them,” said Jones. “My brothers and sisters on the bench often pull an ostrich after a decision is reached. The country’s framers intended for the people to be enlightened and interested and involved. If they were to come back today, I think the framers would be chagrined if they were to see so much ignorance of the workings of our judicial system. But honestly, I lay the blame on judges. We pull an ostrich too often.”

Unsurprisingly, Jones drew a lot of criticism after his decision. Republican pundit Phyllis Schlafly said he “stuck a knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance,” referring to the Evangelical right.

“I went into a bookstore and saw an Ann Coulter book, and I checked the index, and there my name was,” said Jones. “And I thought, ‘that can’t be good.'”

“I’m a Republican, appointed by a Republican president,” said Jones, “and people make assumptions because of that. Nowadays, people assume that all Democrats are liberal, and all Republicans are conservative. Everyone thought I was conservative, although I’m aware of nothing in my past to suggest that, other than my being a Republican.”

“In all the criticism that followed the decision, the pundits omitted to note the role of precedent,” said Jones. “There is a widespread misunderstanding about the rule of law. All the O’Reillys and Schlaflys and Robertsons and Coulters work to create an impression that judges should operate personally, that they should make ad hoc or personal rulings or, worst yet, respond to public will. The truth is that article three of the Constitution is a bulwark against the public will. This is one of the reasons I keep insisting that I’m not an activist judge. If I had come to a different conclusion and ruled that it was acceptable to teach religious material in school — thrown one for the team — then I would have been an activist judge. Activist judges are not desirable.”

Jones reffered to the social fallout following the Terry Schiavo case, in which a brain-dead woman was allowed to die rather than be kept on life support. “I remembered Congressman Tom Delay standing within his Congressional well, saying that the men responsible for the decision would be called to answer. Not today, but soon. This was a threat to judges, one that could conceivably foment violence. This is precisely the problem. Judges feel threatened by the public. Judges are frightened by public ad hominem attacks against the messengers.” Jones went on to say that many good people decline to take the bench, simply from fear of public pressure.

Jones conceded that it is difficult to stand against public opinion. “Statistics say that something like half of Americans say it’s OK to teach creationism in high schools. So, many say, ‘let public will be done.’ Why not? Why shouldn’t that be the case? My answer, at the risk of sounding simplistic, is that we have the Constitution.”

Jones blames much of the trouble in the modern judicial system on an uninformed electorate. “It’s a messy business, democracy,” Jones said. “And I know that we judges are mortal. We are deeply imperfect. We make wrong decisions, and those wrong decisions should be challenged. We don’t mind. We really don’t.”

Warrantless Wiretaps–A Felony Regardless of Precautions

Conservative bloggers are all hot and excited over the report yesterday that Bush’s hand picked lap dogs approved of his warrantless wiretaps. This was hardly a surprise. The panel consisted of four Republicans and one neoconservative Democrat with a history of bashing Democrats–sort of a Joe Lieberman without the prestige of a Senate seat. The panel found adequate safe guards to protect civil liberties, but that is hardly surprising. With such a biased panel, which lacked subpoena power, it is no surprise that they found nothing wrong. We could just as easily chose a panel of four liberal Democrats and one Repubican such as Congressman Bob Barr which would come to the opposite conclusion.

Even if there were adequate precautions in place to protect the civil liberties of Americans, this is not the point. The simple point here is that Congress specifically made such conduct a felony, and the Executive Branch is not above the law. The founding fathers established the separation of powers for good reason. Even if a President is currently breaking the law is not violating the civil liberties of Americans, there is no assurance the next President won’t. This is not a matter of being a Bush supporter or opponent, but of a basic respect for the rule of law.

Hillary Clinton Watch

For the past year the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton has virtually locked up the 2008 Democratic nomination. Perhaps she peaked too soon, as pundits cannot resist dumping on the front runner. Check Todd writes of potential problems for Clinton at National Journal. Andrew Sullivan urges her not to run, warning that she is the one thing which could reunite the divided conservatives in opposition. Political Wire even quotes the Iowa Democratic Chair noting she has not been preparing for the Iowa caucuses and is wondering whether she will run:

Said Iowa Democratic Chair Rob Tully: “She’s been quiet and, you know, there’s a question that we all hear is that she may not get in this if Barack Obama gets in. I have never seen a reaction other than Bill Clinton in terms of the excitement that people have to meet Barack Obama. Some people just wanted to touch him.

I wouldn’t count Hillary out yet. Most likely she is not preparing for the Iowa caucuses figuring they won’t mean much if Vilsack is in the race, analogous to when Harkin was a candidate making the Iowa caucus irrelevant to the nomination in the past. By the way, the ultimate winner that year was Bill Clinton. Still, there’s no telling how much more vulnerable she will be if she loses the aura of inevitability.

Huffington Post Hiring Reporters

The differencess between old and new media are continuing to blur. Like many blogs, Huffington Post includes news reports from conventional news sources. The New York Times reports that they are planning to do their own original reporting:

Arianna Huffington, who started, said yesterday that the site had hired Melinda Henneberger, a print journalist most recently with Newsweek magazine, as its political editor. The site has about 2.3 million unique visitors a month, making it one of the more popular blog sites.

Ms. Huffington said Ms. Henneberger would hire a number of other journalists to begin producing original content, “with attitude.”

“Now is the time to generate our own original content,” Ms. Huffington said. “It was always our intention, once we had the money, to hire people to do reporting.”

Softbank Capital, a venture capital group, invested $5 million in the site earlier this year. Ms. Huffington said she planned to hire investigative reporters as well as a multimedia team to do video reports and wanted to make the site more interactive.

The site already offers a mix of opinion and breaking news from wire services and other sources, but Ms. Huffington said she wanted to produce reported pieces that were expressed with individual voices.

“That’s the combination you need online,” she said, adding that unlike bloggers, who generally file when they want to, her reporters will have deadlines and regular schedules and will travel for their articles. Also unlike bloggers, Ms. Huffington said, they will be paid.

It will be interesting to see what journalistic standards are adhered to. The bias at Huffington Post is obvious, and is fine for an opinion dominated blog. It is hard to imagine them planning a totally objective news source, but investigative journalism with a liberal bias could still be of value. One problem often seen with web based journalism is a lack of regard for journalistic standards of accuracy, with sites such as Drudge being perfectly fine with releasing unsubstantiated information if it will create a buzz. Hopefully starting with established journalists will increase the chances of them producing a quality product.