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.

Why Are Athiests so Angry?

Sam Harris answers the question of why are athiests so angry at Jewcy (reprinted at Huffington Post). Here’s a portion of his post:

The United States now stands alone in the developed world as a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead; 53% believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. This is embarrassing. Add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44% of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.

Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. This dewy-eyed nihilism provides absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization. Many of these people are lunatics, but they are not the lunatic fringe. Some of them can actually get Karl Rove on the phone whenever they want.

While Muslim extremists now fly planes into our buildings, saw the heads off journalists and aid-workers, and riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons, several recent polls reveal that atheists are now the most reviled minority in the United States. A majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist even if he were a “well-qualified candidate” from their own political party. Atheism, therefore, is a perfect impediment to holding elected office in this country (while being a woman, black, Muslim, Jewish, or gay is not). Most Americans also say that of all the unsavory alternatives on offer, they would be least likely to allow their child to marry an atheist. These declarations of prejudice might be enough to make some atheists angry. But they are not what makes me angry.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

Gingrich Calls For Restrictions on Freedom of Speech

Newt Gingrich is creating controversy by arguing that Free Speech Should Be Curtailed To Fight Terrorism:

“We need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until we actually literally lose a city, which I think could literally happen in the next decade if we’re unfortunate,” Mr. Gingrich said Monday night during a speech in New Hampshire. “We now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren’t for the scale of the threat.”

Speaking at an award dinner billed as a tribute to crusaders for the First Amendment, Mr. Gingrich, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008, painted an ominous picture of the dangers facing America.

“This is a serious, long-term war,” the former speaker said, according an audio excerpt of his remarks made available yesterday by his office. “Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people.”

It comes as no surprise that liberal bloggers are disturbed by Gingrich’s statements. Mainstream media coverage hasn’t been very favorable, such as with CBS reporting this as Newt’s First Amendment Flub? What I’m especially happy to see is that even some conservative bloggers find reason to be disturbed by Gingrich advocating such restrictions. For example, Captain’s Quarters writes:

Gingrich left the specifics out of the proposal, which makes this somewhat vague. Does Newt propose limiting political speech that supports radical Islamists? Does he want to restrict the exercise of religion by Muslims in radical mosques? Could he be proposing both? Until we get more specific about the restrictions, specific criticism will be difficult to stage, and perhaps that’s his intent.

However, it isn’t difficult to defend the First Amendment in principle, and we need to do that now. The First Amendment has always had an exception for speech that incites a movement to violently overthrow the government of the United States, and I’m all for enforcing that. However, if Gingrich believes that we can win the war by silencing American citizens, then he is fighting the wrong war on behalf of the wrong principles. All he is doing is replacing one bogeyman (political corruption) for another (terrorism); in essence, he’s no different from McCain.

The remedy for bad speech is more speech. The solution to radical mosques is to enforce immigration laws and to tighten visa requirements to keep radicals from entering the US. If people want to advocate for terrorist attacks and the violent overthrow of our elected government, then they have already broken the law, and it requires no sacrifice from Americans to prosecute such people. Free speech and religious freedom did not cause terrorism; in fact, the lack of both causes it. If Gingrich wants to offer the hair of the dog as a solution, then he will find himself very lonely on the campaign trail for the next two years.

Right. We don’t need new restrictions for law enforcement to go after terrorists threatening to destroy an American city.

Rating Video Games and Movies

Looking thru my RSS reader I clicked on one story due to the title, War on Christmas Update at Centerfield. The post actually had nothing to do with the War on Christmas. It was actually on a report that the National Institute on Media and the Family has released its 11th annual Video Game Report Card, which rates violence, aggression and sexual content in video games.

I always have mixed feelings about such lists. Do they promote censorship, or do they reduce the need for government censorship by giving parents the information needed to make a decision without government intervention? Such lists aren’t necessarily bad as long as parents use their own judgement as opposed to buying or not buying purely based upon whether something is on somebody’s list.

As someone who is both a parent and strongly opposed to censorship I welcome such ratings as long as they are kept voluntary and intended as a source of information as opposed to promoting censorship. One problem I see with this list is that there really is not very much information here. You either accept their judgement or not.

My daughter never got very much into video games so I haven’t had to become concerned with these ratings, but I’ve welcomed comparable ratings of movies. When my daughter was younger I often used a very conservative web site to review movies. The site gave the specifics of every sexual innuendo and anything anybody could find in any way objectionable. Some things were listed which I would not want my daughter to see, but other things really did not sound like a problem to me.

It would have been a big mistake to avoid all movies which their listings considered heavy in sexual content. However, being able to see a list of everything possibly objectionable in a movie I could decide whether the movie really had anything to be concerned about.

TV Alert: John Kerry on Larry King

From tonight’s listings for Larry King: Plus, Sen. John Kerry on his Iraq joke gone wrong.

Whether Kerry will become a viable candidate for the 2008 nomination depends partially upon whether he can get beyond the unfavorable publicity caused by a poorly written joke which was even more poorly delivered. Kerry has no choice but to appear on shows like this to explain, but it is sure a shame. The country would be far better served by listening to John Kerry’s ideas for getting out of the Iraq war gone bad, as well as his ideas on making health care more affordable, and for strengthening small business.

Psychotics for Bush

A thesis completed at Southern Connecticut State University found that those who are psychotic were more likely to vote for George Bush:

The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study also showed something else which other studies have also found:

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

Supreme Court Declines To Take Case Banning State Funds for Religious Education

Despite the rightward tilt of the Supreme Court, there has been a victory on one church vs. state issue. On Monday the Supreme Court decided against hearing a case against the State of Maine for their law barring the use of public funds for private religious schools:

A conservative group, the Institute for Justice, had asked the justices to take the case. The group is representing eight Maine families who would receive public tuition funds but for the fact that their children attend religious schools.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush‘s homestate of Texas had weighed in, saying in filings to the Supreme Court that Maine is unconstitutionally discriminating against religion.

Vouchers are championed by the president and many conservatives who call them a ticket out of dismal and dangerous public schools. However, those who champion public education say that vouchers divert already-scarce resources from a system badly in need of repair.

School districts in 145 small towns in Maine that have no high schools currently offer tuition for 17,000 students to attend high schools of their choice, public or private, in-state or out-of-state. But religious schools are no longer on the list. Maine’s school system dates back to 1879.