Blackface mania has consumed voters in Virginia and is seeping into other states. Are their closeted politicians in Louisiana who are perusing their old yearbooks and scrapbooks to see if there are any blackface photos lurking in their past? Actually, no, since blackface parodies have been part of the Louisiana mode de vie for a number of years.
If you have been down the bayou at your fishing camp and have not stayed current on the national news, there are daily reports concerning the Governor and the Attorney General in Virginia who have admitted wearing blackface in their younger years. Both are democrats, and most of the other democratic elected officials are calling for the two office holders to step down. It’s right down chaotic in Virginia now, since you have the governor and the attorney general admitting blackface, the lieutenant governor is accused of sexual assault, and the next in line Speaker of the House who got his job by having his name picked out of a bowl. They really have it all together in what has been called the most progressive state in the South. If there is a confederacy of dunces, it’s Virginia, not the Bayou State.
The Virginia governor now is backtracking and says that’s not really him in the blackface photo taken back in 1984. Not much of a memory, but other than that, he seems like a decent guy. In his race for governor, he was endorsed by every black legislator in the state. For years, the white Democratic governor has belonged to a predominantly black church with a black pastor. As a physician before becoming governor, he served in a volunteer capacity as the medical director of a children’s hospice, and as an Army doctor, he treated Gulf War casualties for eight years. By any reasonable measure, he seems to have made a longtime commitment to racial justice and public service. But it’s all about that blackface, isn’t it?
When l was serving as Secretary of State in the 1980s, Louisiana legislators, at the end of their legislative sessions at the state capitol, performed a self-parody making fun of their work and themselves. It was called “The Opera” where black legislators wore whiteface and white members wore blackface. No one seemed offended, and one of the most enthusiastic participants was Rev. Avery Alexander, a black civil rights leader and the founder of the Legislative Black Caucus. There was give and take, all in good fun.
Mardi Gras Day is just a few weeks away, and one of largest organizations to march through the city of New Orleans is the Krewe of Zulu. It’s a black krewe that often invites white friends to participate. But there is one requirement. A white participant must wear blackface. A Caucasian friend of mine was invited to ride in Zulu, but he told the group he would not wear black face because he did not want to offend anyone. Sorry the black organization told him. No blackface, no riding in Zulu.
In Baton Rouge this week, a 1993 photo was discovered showing two white police officers in blackface. The officers were involved in an undercover narcotics sting operation to get drugs off the streets. The Baton Rouge mayor was appalled and issued a strong statement condemning the operation. She apparently feels it is better to let drug dealers continue to operate rather than offend anyone.
Here is a short list of entertainers who have worn blackface. Jimmy Kimmel, Dan Aykroyd, Bing Crosby, Billy Crystal, Ted Danson, Robert Downey Jr., Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, Bob Hope, David Niven, Will Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Gene Wilder, the list goes on and on.
With a wave of political correctness sweeping the country, blackface on any level would be inappropriate. But should someone today be held accountable for something they did without malice 30 or 40 years ago? How far back do we go in one’s past before we forgive poor judgment? Would St. Paul have passed such a test after he admittedly persecuted Jews and followers of Jesus Christ before he became a Christian? Or should such degraded souls be eternally ashamed and be reconciled to make perpetual amends?
Let me submit that America, with all its warts, is a pretty decent country that has been able to adapt, revise, adjust and yes, forgive. It’s time for the overlords of outrage to put their intolerance aside let the nation to move on.
It sounded like it came out of a movie plot. In the early morning hours, federal agents stormed a home to make an arrest. They had to be after some major drug lord or a sought-after terrorist. There were 29 agents all wearing military gear and carrying weapons. High powered assault rifles were involved. Seventeen SUVs and two armored vehicles surrounded the home with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It must be a really dangerous dude.
In a nearby canal, amphibious watercraft charged the home filled with more federal agents. A helicopter hovered in the sky with long range weapons focused on the home. As agents approached the house with battering rams, they demanded that the accused immediately open the door and surrender. The attack on Osama Bid Laden had fewer Navy Seals involved then the number of agents who were sent to arrest this dangerous villain. Was this the seizure of an anti-government leader in Venezuela? Had El Chapo escaped from prison and his capture was about to take place? Had the feds found Bin Laden’s successor? CNN had been tipped off and broadcast the whole attack live. What was going on?
lt was none of these, but merely a longtime Trump friend Roger Stone. He was being arrested for making false statements to a congressional committee. And he was treated like a terrorist? Stone is an American citizen and has lived in south Florida for a number of years. He does not have a current passport. He has known about this investigation for months, and his lawyers said he would be glad to self-surrender if he were charged with a crime. If Stone had documents to hide or destroy, he would have had plenty of time in the months preceding his arrest. He has never been accused of any crimes and has no violent history.
After his arrest, the judge let Stone out on his personal signature without having to put up any property or money. It was obvious that Stone was no threat and should have been allowed to appear on his own. So what gives? Have we been turned into a jackboot democracy?
Here was Stone’s response. “They could simply have called my lawyers and I would have turned my myself in. I’m 66 years old. I don’t own a firearm. I have no previous criminal record. My passport has expired. The special counsel’s office is well aware of the fact that I’m represented. I was frog-marched out the front door barefooted and shackled. It’s an attempt to poison the jury pool. These are Gestapo tactics.”
Some in the press speculated that the special prosecutor and the FBI were sending a message. They sure were. It’s a message of terror, and fear that no citizen can trust their government. It’s a message that your government is not above using police state tactics, and that the justice system responds, not based on evidence, but based on threats. When thugs come into intimidate, it sends a message that you may not be living in a democracy anymore but a banana republic. It sends a message that no, you are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty in a system that operates in such a dictatorial fashion.
The story gets worse. Stone’s indictment accuses him of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, but the testimony is classified so Stone is prohibited from seeing what he supposedly lied about. How is he supposed to defend himself if he cannot even read what he supposedly said? What has happened to the supposed constitutional guarantee of being able to confront your accuser and challenging their evidence?
It matters not whether you are a liberal or a staunch conservative, this is not how justice is supposed to operate in America. Many Americans will feel that if it is not happening to them then why should they care. But unfortunately, what happened to Roger Stone could happen to anyone. Are we not a better country than this?
Peace and Justice
How do you put a dollar value on the worth of a public official? How about this idea.
Shouldn’t receiving any salary increase be based on results?
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron will pocket some three and a half million dollars this year, making him one of the highest-paid football coaches in the nation. He received such an enormous salary package based on results. It’s the old adage that you get what you pay for, and with Ed, LSU ended the football season winning 10 games.
Should time and work be the only criteria in paying public employees? Why not pay the governor, the secretary of economic development, the superintendent of education, and a cross section of other public officials that directly affect our lives based on a scale of how well they perform and what results they achieve?
Experimentation with performance pay in the public sector is on the grow. A New York City charter school is promising to pay teachers $125,000 a year, plus bonuses based on classroom and school-wide performance. Sure, this is a lot of money, but those in charge are looking for a significant increase in student performance levels. Bottom line — results.
All of this aside, the heart of our query is about pegging the pay of the governor and his top assistants to performance. I would surmise that most voters in Louisiana would think it’s a good idea, but how do you do it? When you talk about results, it is certainly easier to define in the private sector. Results are measured in the stock price of a publicly traded company or by profit in any other company. The more the company makes, the more its managers can earn.
But can you create an accountability and production index in government? I think you can. This would be a challenge for key economists at Louisiana universities. Develop a formula that would give a “performance index.” Sounds difficult, but why not give it a try? If you take the economic figures below and compare them with other states, Louisiana comes in 48th in the nation.
I suggest starting a Louisiana “misery index.” Go ahead and pay Gov. John Bel Edwards and his brain trust the big bucks. The governor should make $1 million a year. But this amount would be adjusted by the misery index. Right now, the index is high on poor growth and low on performance, so Edwards salary would be close to what he now makes: $125,000. Now this should just be the beginning. As Governor Edwards often tells us, future economic growth in Louisiana is tied to job skills through education. Therefore, we should build into the formula increases in high school math performance, elementary student test results, reduction in the state’s troubling pollution levels, and maybe the number of new movies that are shot in Louisiana each year. Leave out the LSU national football ratings but include the student athlete graduation rates.
Finally, I would factor in consumer confidence. Are the voters getting tangible results? Are they happy with the performance of their top public officials? If you own shares of stock, and have little confidence in your company investment, you simply sell the stock. The average Joe ought to be able to put in his two cents worth as to the value he’s getting out of Louisiana government. Get his opinion through a statewide poll and factor the results in to the performance index.
So to all the statewide officials, I say make your case and ask the salary level you think you are worth. But just like in the private sector, be prepared to defend the bottom line. The proof of course is in the pudding. Be accountable for the results that take place. And if you succeed, reap the benefits.
In ancient Rome, there was a tradition when major projects were built. Whenever a Roman engineer constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible. He stood under the arch.
So pay these pied pipers of change and economic growth the big bucks they say they are worth. But keep them directly under the arch of performance, and let voters know there will be a day of reckoning if this promise of change and results plummet to the ground.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.
It’s the end of the college football season with Clemson taking a resounding victory over favored Alabama. The year also produced a financial bonanza for top tier football schools all over the country. ESPN has paid some 7 billion dollars for the rights to telecast just seven games a year over the next 12 years. Television revenue has doubled for major college football programs over last year. Stadiums are expanding and ticket sales are at an all-time high. So let’s ask this question-is it all about the money?
Initially, college football and other athletic programs were supposed to be extracurricular activities; a break from the rigors of taking classes and qualifying for a degree. No more. Just absorb the words of Cardale Jones, a recent quarterback for national championship powerhouse Ohio State. His message on Twitter complained: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Maybe Cardale has a point. For many colleges, it’s all about the dollars and winning football games. My old friend and University of North Carolina football coach Mack Brown summed it up this way: “When you hear college presidents and athletic directors talk about character and academics and integrity, none of that really matters. College football is growing closer and closer of being like the NFL.”
When it comes to priorities, my home state’s football powerhouse is a case in point. Louisiana colleges are in a financial free-fall, with new budget cuts being imposed yearly. LSU has seen its state-funding cut by over 40% in recent years. The endowment of the state’s flagship university is one of the lowest of any major colleges in the country. In the most recent edition of U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, LSU weighed in at a lowly 129th in the nation.
But when it comes to football financial rankings, the Fighting Tigers are high on the list. In the recent Forbes rankings of the most valuable football teams, LSU comes in at number 4, with a current value of just under $100 million, and a football profit last year of $47 million. Coach Ed Orgeron is paid $3.5 million plus performance bonuses and endorsement fees. One of his assistants is paid $ 2.5 million. To compare athletics and academics, the University’s top remunerated professors receive an annual salary of $78,000.
Most Wall Street hedge funds would love to see blue chip stocks increase at the rate of college football revenue. Schools like LSU are paid over $12 million by companies like Nike, just to wear the company’s logo. But to make that kind of money, the football team has to be a winner. And to win, even the top academic schools often cut corners.
My alma mater, The University of North Carolina, consistently ranks as one of the top academic universities in the U.S. But the alums want a football winner. In recent months, press reports documented that for the past 18 years, thousands of athletes, primarily football players, have taken fake “paper classes’ with no attendance and no work performed.
And just what do these athletes receive? Only enough to cover the basic college expenses — room, food, tuition and books. No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented, disciplined, hardworking athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it. Such a system is ill-defined at best and hypocritical at worst.
Fifty-six years ago, I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship outlays. What I received then was equivalent to some $300 in pocket money if the same were allowed today. But the NCAA tightened up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like me received some years back.
The system in place brings in millions of dollars for those that run the football program, but allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors. What a deal-your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses.
Something is definitely wrong with the way college football is run. But with all the money coming in, don’t expect much to change. After all, we only care about winning.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I always do. A New Year always brings with it promise and uncertainty, but this coming year brings with it a greater foreboding than we have experienced in the past. The Chinese have a saying: “May you live in interesting times.” But their definition means dangerous or turbulent. We in Louisiana and throughout America certainly live in “interesting” times today.
One resolution I make each year is to maintain my curiosity. It doesn’t matter how limited your perspective or how narrow the scope of your surroundings, there is (or should be) something to whet your interest and strike your fancy. I discovered early on that there are two kinds of people — those who are curious about the world around them, and those whose shallow attentions are generally limited to those things that pertain to their own personal well-being. I just hope all those I care about fall into the former category.
Another resolution is to continue to hope. I hope for successful and fulfilling endeavors for my children, happiness and contentment for family and friends, and for the fortitude to handle both the highs and lows of daily living with dignity.
Each year, I ask my children to give me two gifts for Christmas. First, I ask them to make a donation to a charity that will help needy families in their community. And second, I ask them to re-read Night, the unforgettable holocaust novel by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate who survived the Nazi death camps. I have a Wiesel quote framed on my office desk:
“To defeat injustice and misfortune, if only for one instant, for a single victim, is to invent a new reason to hope.”
Like many of you, our family welcomes in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s an old Scotch tune, with words passed down orally, and recorded by my favorite historical poet, Robert Burns, back in the 1700s. (I’m Scottish, so there’s a bond here.) “Auld Lang Syne,” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.” Did you know this song is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year?
I can look back over many years of memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations. In recent years, my wife and I have joined a gathering of family and friends in New Orleans at a French Quarter restaurant. After dinner, we make a stop at St. Louis Cathedral for a blessing of the New Year. Then it’s off to join the masses for the New Year’s countdown to midnight in Jackson Square.
When my daughters were quite young, we spent a number of New Year holidays at a family camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River some 30 miles below Vicksburg. On several occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Charles P. Greco, who was the Catholic Bishop for central and north Louisiana. Bishop Greco had baptized all three of my daughters, and had been a family friend for years.
On many a cold and rainy morning, the handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass. After the service, most of the family went back to bed. I would crank up my old jeep and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass. No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee. He rarely got a deer, but oh how he loved to be there in the woods. Now, I’m not a Catholic, but he treated me as one of his own.
New Year’s Day means lots of football, but I also put on my chef’s apron. I’m well regarded in the kitchen around my household, if I say so myself, for cooking up black-eyed peas as well as cabbage and corn bread. And don’t bet I won’t find the dime in the peas. After all, I’m going to put it there.
I’ll be back next week with my customary views that are cantankerous, opinionated, inflammatory, slanted, and always full of vim and vigor. Sometimes, to a few, even a bit fun to read. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, your friends and all of your family. See you next year.
Peace and Justice
Most of us have been swept up in the momentum of the holiday season. We have passed Thanksgiving, reached the Christmas milestone and are approaching New Year’s Day, the third in the trilogy of holidays.
Sure, there is a lot of our attention on holiday shopping, football, and social events. But it is also a time to reflect of what the three holidays can mean to all of us. A second chance, and maybe even a new beginning.
On Thanksgiving Day, we recognized and celebrated the new start of the Pilgrims who made the two-month journey from England to America back in 1620. They too wanted a second chance. They were searching for a better life with the freedom to live and worship in their own way, free from the intolerance they faced under King James I and the Church of England. Their leaders created the Mayflower Compact, which established a new set of laws so that they could be treated equally and fairly as part of their new way of life. A rebirth. A new beginning for all of them.
The second link in the trilogy, and to Christians the most important, is the Christmas season. The Bible teaches that Christ died on the cross to give believers a second chance.
There is one book that I try to read over the holidays every year — “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In the early 1960s, I had a golden opportunity to study English Literature at Cambridge University in England, where the writings of Dickens were my focus.
Dickens was a major literary personality in his day, and newspapers serialized many of his stories. He initially published under the pen name of “Boz,” and he used this pseudonym for many of his early novels. He entertained his wide London audience with humor in books like, “The Pickwick Papers” and “The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby.” Dickens pulled at the heartstrings of his readers with the drama of “Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” But as the Christmas season approached in 1843, Dickens began using his own name, and took on the role of a crusader with the publication of “A Christmas Carol.”
Most of us have seen this poignant Christmas story filled with an array of colorful characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But the real lessons of the spirit that emanate from this special time of year come, not from miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, but from his dead partner, Jacob Marley. While alive, Marley failed to help others, and in death he is damned to the agony of recognizing the pain and suffering of others, and being unable to help in anyway, and this is his special hell.
My attorney friend, Eric Duplantis, who practices law and writes in the small town of Franklin, Louisiana, puts it this way: “In life, Marley’s worst sin was not his venality, but his indifference. After death he realizes this. But it’s too late. Death gave him compassion, but his sentence for a lifetime of indifference is an inability to act on the compassion he feels.”
Marley is given a single opportunity to do a good act, after which he must return to his Hell. The ghost gives Scrooge the greatest gift of all. Marley gives Scrooge the chance of redemption. The message here from Dickens is that even someone as lost as Ebenezer Scrooge can be saved if he seizes this one-time gift of a second chance.
Here’s hoping that the coming year brings you the opportunity of a second chance if you feel you need one. We all generally do. But whether you do or you don’t, may you and your family have a blessed and healthy holiday season and a very happy New Year. As Tiny Tim said in “The Christmas Carol,” God bless us every one.
Peace and Justice
The President has made illegal immigrants who have moved in to what are called “Sanctuary Cities” a major issue in recent months, even signing an executive order cutting off funds to municipalities that ignore federal law. The Crescent City is in the forefront of ignoring federal law and protecting those there illegally.
Can the City of New Orleans pick and choose which federal laws it will acknowledge and enforce? Most of us understand that if you violate a federal law, then there are consequences. You most likely will be prosecuted and punished. Federal laws on the books are supposed to apply to everyone. That is unless you are an illegal immigrant living in New Orleans.
Didn’t we fight a Civil War over the nullification of federal laws? A century and a half later, New Orleans has joined a host of other American cities in declaring that federal immigration laws are just right down bothersome. It is irrelevant to city leaders in the Crescent City that their actions in supporting widespread illegal immigration is a factor in causing crime rates to rise, and the cost of auto insurance for every Louisiana driver to go up.
No one seems to know how many illegal immigrants have gravitated to Louisiana. Guesstimates have varied from 75,000 to more than 150,000. But when an illegal is arrested for a crime committed in the state, federal law requires that local law enforcement authorities notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs office. New Orleans is not enforcing this requirement. As a New Orleans police department spokesman was quoted as saying: “In general, we’re not cooperating with the ICE.”
So immigrants who are in New Orleans illegally often create a false identity, use a fraudulent Social Security number, falsify federal forms, and, if arrested, are free to go once released by the New Orleans Police Department. We witnessed recently the tragic killing of a young woman in San Francisco, murdered by an illegal immigrant, who was a repeat felon and who had been deported five times.
Crime rates are on the upswing in New Orleans. A just released report by research firm 24/7 Wall Street concludes that New Orleans had the highest per capita firearm homicide rate in the nation—four times the national rate. No one knows how many illegal immigrants are committing crimes, because the city refuses to both monitor and release this information.
And just watch auto insurance rates, already the highest in the nation, go up even more as this policy from the New Orleans Police Department’s immigration manual is implemented. “Officers shall not enforce La. 14.100.13, which states that no alien students or non—resident alien shall operate a motor vehicle in the state without documentation that the person is lawfully present in the United States.” So ignore this state law, right New Orleans? You should just pick and choose what laws you like and the laws you don’t like. Is that what Louisiana has come to?
Traffic accident records show that illegal immigrants are a high risk of not carrying auto insurance. So a driver not at fault has to use their own insurance to pay the damage costs, and insurance rates continue to go up.
What happened that caused the deterioration of the laws on the books concerning illegal immigration? When you break into my home, you are committing a crime. But when you break into my country, it has become, to our leaders in Washington and New Orleans, merely an embarrassing inconvenience. Republicans are now throwing in the towel and giving up on seeing that current law is enforced. Has it become OK to set aside the law and ignore its violation for political purposes?
And what’s all this stuff about “undocumented workers?” The lead Republican in this effort to legalize those who have illegally entered the United States is Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio. He conveniently refers to these illegals as “individuals who are living in the United States without proper immigration documents.” That’s like saying that your local drug dealer is in possession of large amounts of cocaine, but just forgot to get a doctor’s prescription.
There should be major risks and consequences when laws are broken. But besides the President, both political parties are pandering to Hispanic voters who often are sympathetic to lax immigration enforcement. Will Donald Trump goad members of congress to take on Sanctuary cities like New Orleans, and lead a charge for strong enforcement of immigration laws? Let’s hope so.
“All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”
Peace and Justice
The horrific Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead last week was, for good reason, called “the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.” It was a ghastly crime of appalling proportions. Robert Bowers is charged with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of hate crimes. If he is convicted, as he most assuredly will be, then the death penalty would, and should, be fully justified.
“The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes,” said Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney, and Bob Jones, the FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office. Brady further avowed that Bowers could face the death penalty if he is convicted of a hate crime.
So, what’s a hate crime you ask? If someone is premeditatedly shot and killed, that’s commonly murder. When you’re dead, you are dead, and there is a strong penalty for that; generally, life or the death penalty. But hate crime supporters want more than justice. They want vengeance.
Under federal law, one can be charged with a hate crime if the crime was motivated by hatred involving race, religion, national origin, color or sexual preference. Penalties for crimes against these groups already exist, but under the law such crimes are enhanced by what’s in the perpetrator’s mind. What ever happened to double jeopardy? Simply put, a prosecutor can bring charges not only for an accused’s conduct, but they also can go after him for his thoughts. In the Four Lads song, Standing on The Corner, Watching All The Girls Go By, there is the lyric, “Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Well, in the case of hate laws, apparently you can.
Having deeply troubling concerns over a thought police is nothing new. George Orwell’s novel, 1984 paints a disturbing and chilling scenario where one can be accused of a crime, arrested and prosecuted merely for thoughts in your mind. “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed… the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime they called it… Sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
Have you ever gotten so mad and pent up that you went into a rage and said things you really didn’t mean? “That sorry, no count blank, blank, blank, blank! I’ll get even with him!” Have you ever used a racial slur? Oh, no, you say. But then, upon reflection, maybe you did once or twice. Does that make you a racist?
If there is supposed to be equal justice under the law, shouldn’t the punishment be based on the crime, and not on who the victim is? If a deranged killer opens fire in a shopping mall, is this less of a crime than a maniac opening fire in a club filled with African Americans or gays? Otherwise, when a life is taken, aren’t we making a determination that that the lives of one particular group have greater value than the lives of another group? Isn’t it a fundamental principle of a democracy that the punishment fits the crime, not the victim?
Ayn Rand wrote about the divisiveness that takes place when preferences are given under the law. “There is no sure way to infect mankind with hatred – brute, blind, virulent hatred – than by splitting it into ethnic groups or tribes.”
Freedom in America means the freedom to have bad thoughts. I may not like what you are thinking, but ideas alone should not be a crime. A criminal should be punished for bad acts, not bad thoughts. James Madison said it well: “We have extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making the laws for the human mind.”
When it comes to crime, yes there should be a protected class that gets full protection from the criminal justice system. That protected class should be all Americans. And every American should be treated equally.
Peace and Justice
Whatever the final result over the confirmation battle of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, one thing is becoming more urgent. The court itself has a crisis of legitimacy. And one way to restore its genuineness is to require term limits for all future judges.
The Supreme Court of old was more majestic with few periods of confrontation. Just a decade ago, 2/3rds of Americans had great confidence in the Court. No more. There’s trouble brewing in those marble temple walls. Confidence in the workings of the court and the Justices themselves have dropped to a mere 50% approval rating.
And it should not be any surprise as to why the Supremes are held is such low esteem. They have become a partisan body, every bit as political as the other two branches of government. We saw such partisanship front and center in the Bush-Gore election decision and in the court’s blessing of Obamacare. Five to four split decisions are becoming the norm with Republican appointees voting one way and their Democratic counterparts voting just the opposite. No more moderates or progressives on the court. Just jurists who are either hard right or hard left.
The writers of the constitution never envisioned such partisanship. The nation’s founding fathers imagined a court made up of legal sages, devoid of the political pressures experienced by congress and the president. Justices of the past seemed to relish in their image of being independent and simply interpreting the law as written.
Current Chief Justice John Roberts made a vain attempt to enunciate such a balanced philosophy at his confirmation hearings back in 2005 when he told the Senate judiciary Committee:
“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire. Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”
So justices are not influenced by their own personal opinions? Good luck with that. Partisanship has never been so extreme. Judge Kavanaugh was never going to receive any democratic support from the day he was nominated. And republicans in the senate refused to even consider or hold a hearing on President Obama’s last pick, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland. New justices taking office are well aware of their partisan supporters. And such awareness certainly affects their view of becoming activists by extending or even creating the law, rather than merely interpreting it as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.
So why term limits? For a starter, no other democracy in the world gives life tenure to a sitting judge. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any other profession that makes appointments for life. Sure, the constitutional scholars back in the 1770s created lifetime appointments. But remember that the average life span back then for a U. S. citizen was 35 years.
Chief Justice Roberts endorsed term limits back in 1983 when he stated: “Setting a term of, say, 15 years would ensure that federal judges would not lose all touch with reality through decades of ivory tower existence.” And that’s an important point. The court has, too often, been occupied by aging justices who habitually seem disengaged from the world surrounding them. You would think that the court should have dynamism and consistency that a rotation of new judges would bring. It’s hard to breathe new life into a court that bases its make up on actuarial tables and the luck of the draw as to who lives the longest.
Under the current system, a president can only serve in office for eight years yet can appoint a Justice or judge who can stay on the bench for 40 year or more. One term of say 16 years makes sense. Poll after poll show that voters want term limits for judges. With all the controversy in Washington over who ends up on the court, now seems like a good time to consider such a change.
I have a confession to make. And President Trump is not going to like it. I’m a southern country lawyer. Darn proud of it. In the President’s words, I may be a “dumb southern country lawyer.” I just hope the President does not have a sneering contempt for all of us Louisiana lawyers who cut our teeth practicing law in the rural areas of the Bayou State.
If you are unaware of the President’s supposed pot shots at those of us who ply our trade in the more pastoral boroughs of the state, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has out a new “tell all” book entitled “Fear: Trump in the White House.” Woodward you recall was the reporter who dropped the bombshell on the Nixon White House back in 1972, and was portrayed by Robert Redford in the film, “All the President’s Men.”
Woodward writes of many revelations claiming he received insider information from current White House operatives who listen to the President on a daily basis. And, according to the book, Donald Trump makes it clear there is no love lost between him and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is quoted as saying that: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer.”
Now I’m reading this to mean that “a one-person country lawyer” is about as simple and elementary as you can get if legal guidance is required. No real talent or expertise required. Just a little folksy off the shoulder opinion will do.
Do you have to be an Ivy League barrister to have the knowledge and expertise to make sound and compelling legal decisions? It’s a fact that all the current members of the U.S. Supreme Court attended either Harvard or Yale. But maybe that’s part of the problem with a number of questionable high court decisions. As Alabama law professor Ronald Krotoszynski wrote recently, “Are an attorney’s perspectives and capabilities “defined by the three years he or she spent in law school? Shouldn’t professional experience and judgment matter too? “
I graduated from Tulane Law School back in 1966 and moved to the rural town of Ferriday, Louisiana with a population of 5000. There were a few other lawyers in the surrounding parishes, most of who graduated from LSU. No specialized legalese in these rural courthouses. Lawyers had to know a good bit about all phases of the law, both criminal and civil.
I handled civil cases ranging from divorces and small claims and stood toe to toe with big shot eastern attorneys representing General Motors and a number of major oil companies. On the criminal side, I was often appointed by the local judge to represent a cross section of those accused of robberies right up to capital cases. Many readers will remember the notorious Jim Leslie murder case that happened in Baton Rouge back in the 1970s. Leslie’s killer was gunned down in Concordia Parish and I was appointed to defend this killer. I can tell you the whole sorted story.
Here’s my point. Country lawyers, particularly in the South, rarely take a narrowly defined career path. Sure, an attorney has to know the law. But there also is a need to comprehend the practicalities of how the law should be applied and how such application affects and impacts the average citizen.
I’ve come across a number of outstanding lawyers who graduated from Tulane, LSU and Southern law schools. They often have both solid legal aptitude and a good bit of plain old common sense. Our judges, by and large, stack up with barristers anywhere in the country, and we certainly have the legal talent that is qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with any justice presently on the U.S. Supreme Court.
So give us a break Mr. President. We might surprise you down here in the deepest of the deep southern states. Yes, some up north may call us dumb southern country lawyers. But I have worked with many Louisiana attorneys, particularly in smaller towns, that can go eyeball to eyeball with any Ivy Leaguer. Simply put Mr. President, we wear our southern country lawyer title proudly.