Category Archives: legal news

Federal bench: to date the silent issue of 2020 campaign

Let’s see, we’ve had two rounds of Democratic Party presidential primary debates, with 20 candidates beating the hell out of each other over a number of issues and, yes, drawing some blood from the Republican president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

I’m waiting, though, for discussion about what the Democrats plan to do about one of the serious consequences of the 2020 election: appointing judges to federal benches all over the nation.

This is where we learn about how “elections have consequences.”

Barely halfway through the president’s term in office, he has been able to seat two new justices to the nation’s highest court. Trump has solidified — so far — the court’s conservative majority. He replaced one conservative icon, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, with another reliable conservative jurist, Neil Gorsuch; he put another conservative on the court, Brett Kavanaugh, to succeed moderate/swing justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired.

He’s already sprinkled his brand of judicial conservatism — however he defines it — on federal courts across the nation.

Count me as a voter who does not want to see the federal bench populated by right-wing zealots shrouded in black robes. Trump has promised to carry through with that threat/promise, in so many words.

I am waiting for Democrats to speak openly about the judicial appointment issue as they talk to and about each other during the primary campaign. I want some assurance that they will look for men and women of impeccable integrity, who have no personal “history” to which they must answer and who understand fully how to interpret the U.S. Constitution without putting a rigid right-wing spin on what they think the framers intended when they wrote the document more than two centuries ago.

States that have long-term governors understand the importance of these appointments. Rick Perry served as Texas governor longer than anyone else in state history and he appointed more judges to state courts than anyone else as well. Gov. Perry’s legacy will stand with those appointments, for better or worse, even as they stand for election and re-election in the years to come.

For the federal bench, though, the stakes are even more profound. These judges are appointed to serve for as long as they live, if they choose to do so. Federal judges are the living, breathing embodiment of how consequential presidential elections can become.

Let’s be sure to air these issues out with clarity and conviction.

Trump and this guy are pals? What the … ?

What in the world is going on here?

Jeffrey Epstein, a New York financier, socialite and mega-rich guy has been charged with sex trafficking involving underage girls. The charges stem reportedly from a decade-old case.

Now we hear that one of Epstein’s BFFs, a fellow named Donald Trump, has yammered about what a “great guy” Epstein is and how Epstein likes the company of beautiful women, some of whom are, um, a good bit younger.

These are federal charges which — if you’re following the news over the past year or so — means that the president of the United States could actually pardon this guy of the crimes for which he has been charged. Of course, I refer to the president being the same Donald Trump who talked about Epstein being such a great guy.

It’s fair as well to wonder: Is there a connection of any kind between this individual’s alleged misconduct with girls and the president of the United States who’s been charged with assorted allegations of sexual assault?

Oh, I almost forgot. We have the matter involving a former Florida federal prosecutor who didn’t file charges against Epstein when they first surfaced. That ex-legal eagle is now Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. It’s a tangled web, indeed … yes?

I just had to ask.

This Epstein matter has the potential of growing some serious legs, if you know what I mean.

Chief Justice Roberts merely shows his independence

Political conservatives are angry with one of their own.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has turned on them, they say, because he is siding with liberals on the court … on occasion.

Interesting.

The chief justice, to my way of thinking, merely is showing what happens when these men and women get lifetime appointments to the federal bench. They toss aside their partisan labels and start deciding cases on matters relating to the law.

That’s not good enough for many conservatives who believe Roberts should remain the conservative they knew he was when President Bush appointed him to the high court in 2005.

Roberts this week joined the court liberals by turning aside the Trump administration’s insistence on including a “citizenship question” when taking the 2020 census.

The previous day, according to Politico: “Roberts was the sole GOP appointee to side with the liberal wing in a case many legal conservatives were hoping would deal a major blow to the much loathed administrative state by overturning decades of precedent allowing federal agencies wide leeway to interpret their own regulations.”

Roberts earlier was the swing vote on the court that helped save the Affordable Care Act, which the right wing in Congress — and the president — detest merely because it was proposed by a Democratic president and enacted by congressional Democrats.. He also sided with the court progressives in declaring gay marriage to be legal in all 50 states.

Conservatives are angry. Some activists want him impeached. Why? Because he isn’t true to their cause.

This is utter nonsense! The founders established an ostensibly independent judiciary understanding that judges who take the federal bench well could upset the proverbial “conventional wisdom.”

Roberts has not flown off the rails in the 14 years since he joined the Supreme Court. So, he sides with liberals from time to time. The chief justice is entitled under the provisions set forth in the U.S. Constitution to interpret the law and to rule according to his understanding of what the law tells him.

Will there be rulings from Roberts that disappoint me? Sure. Am I going to yammer for Chief Justice Roberts’ impeachment?

No. Never.

Get a grip, righties.

A loud ‘no!’ on private prisons

Ten of the 25 Democrats running for president have touched tonight on an issue that hits one of my hot buttons: private prisons.

I oppose the concept, the principle, the very idea of farming out the incarceration of prisoners to for-profit companies. My reasons aren’t commonly expressed by politicians who share my views on private prisons.

My take is this:

If we’re going to spend public money to pay police officers to arrest criminal suspects, then spend public money to pay prosecuting attorneys to win convictions in publicly funded courtrooms, then we ought to finish that loop by spending public money to incarcerate these individuals.

Whether they commit white-collar crimes, or any sort of violent crime — and that includes capital crimes — a society that insists on spending enough money to arrest and prosecute criminals should also insist on providing sufficient funds to hold them behind bars for as long as their sentence allows.

Some politicians — and that includes the president of the United States — keep espousing in public the idea that private prisons are somehow OK.

They are not OK, in my humble view. We need to ensure full public accountability for the manner in which they are housed. Private prisons certainly are subject to public review. I just believe it is imperative that we keep that duty in the hands of public institutions, whether it’s at the county, state or federal level.

I’ve never had a problem with building prisons when the lockups get too crowded. Nor do I have a problem with ensuring that the public fulfills its responsibility to the individuals who have paid for their arrest and prosecution.

POTUS fills judicial post with an inferior choice

Mary Lou Robinson once was hailed as the role model for judicial excellence during her time as the presiding judge of the Northern District of Texas.

Judge Robinson — who was appointed to the newly created judgeship in 1980 by President Carter — died earlier this year, giving Donald Trump a chance to fill her spot on the federal bench with his own pick. Who does he choose? A fellow named Matthew Kacsmaryk, who has elicited alarm among LGBT activists and other civil libertarians because of his decidedly anti-gay track record while working for right-wing think tanks and assorted political organizations.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Kacsmaryk to the post in a virtually partisan vote; one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, broke party ranks to join Senate Democrats in opposing Kacsmaryk.

Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the lowering of judicial standards in one of our nation’s courts.

Kacsmaryk’s writings and advocacy against gay rights and his comments about transgender children are cause for alarm. Indeed, one did not hear a hint of that kind of judicial philosophy about the woman he is succeeding in that court.

According to NBC NewsMara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, slammed the appointment.

“Transgender youth and their families are facing a crisis in this country, and they cannot afford an unqualified and clearly biased nominee like Matthew Kacsmaryk,” Keisling said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Our country needs fair-minded judges free of irrational prejudices against marginalized people.”

I interviewed many state and county judicial candidates during my years in the Texas Panhandle and almost all of them would cite the late Judge Robinson as their role model for judicial temperament, knowledge of the law and fairness from the bench.

Will the new judge elicit that kind of praise? Hah!

Merrick Garland to preside over Trump appeal? Oh, the irony

The irony here is just too obvious and too rich to ignore.

Donald Trump’s legal team is going to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the president must obey congressional demands to turn over his financial records.

And just who is going to preside over the federal appeals court that will consider this case? None other than Judge Merrick Garland, the man who by all rights should be sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court instead of serving as chief of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is quite fascinating.

President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the high court after the sudden and shocking death of Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016. Justice Scalia had been dead mere hours when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that President Obama would not get to fill the SCOTUS seat. Obama was in the final full year of his presidency and McConnell insisted that the next president be allowed to perform that constitutional duty.

In truth, Merrick Garland was a superb choice. He should have been given a hearing. He should have been confirmed by the Senate. He wasn’t because of McConnell’s partisan grandstanding.

Now the judge gets to preside over an appellate case filed by Donald Trump.

My hunch is this: Judge Garland is going to demonstrate for the entire world his impartiality, his legal judgment, his expertise and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution . . . and will show us precisely why he should be sitting on the United States Supreme Court.

Sen. Graham to Don Jr.: Go ahead, break the law

It looks as though the Twitter Universe is abuzz with demands that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham resign his public office. Why?

Well, the senator — who once served as a judge advocate lawyer for the U.S. Air Force — has invited Donald J. Trump Jr. to break the law.

He told Don Jr. that it’s all right with him — Sen. Graham — if the president’s oldest son wanted to ignore a subpoena to appear before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. Yes sir, there you have it.

Graham has said it’s OK for Don Jr. to ignore a duly constituted congressional committee’s order to do what it demands, which is to testify under oath about the ongoing matter involving Daddy Trump’s relationships with Russian government officials and business leaders.

You know what? I think I’m going to weigh in on that one, too.

Yeah, Graham ought to resign. He chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, for criminy sakes! Graham should not ever tell a potential witness to stiff a congressional committee chairman’s demand that he testify before the panel.

Graham has done an amazing pirouette regarding the Donald Trump. Back when he and Trump were competing for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Graham called Trump “unfit” for the presidency; he called him a liar and charlatan. Then he got beat for the nomination and now has sided with Trump, suggesting that the investigations into Trump’s dealings all are part of a campaign to destroy his presidency.

The only Graham hasn’t said, of course, is that he was wrong to say those nasty things about Trump back when they were political adversaries. That’s right. Graham is quiet on the quality of Donald Trump’s character.

Still, he is as wrong as he can possibly be to tell Donald Trump Jr. to break the law.

Sen. Graham needs to quit.

Barr on the hunt for clue to ‘witch hunt’?

Here we go again. U.S. Attorney General William Barr — reportedly/allegedly/supposedly acting on his volition — has hired a federal prosecutor to determine whether an illegal “spy” operation triggered the Robert Mueller probe into alleged collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russians who attacked our electoral system.

Do you believe with all your heart and soul that the AG acted on his own? Or that he will keep his mitts off the probe being conducted by the U.S. attorney from Connecticut? Or that this investigation will put the “witch hunt” diatribe from the president to rest?

Barr has given John Durham the task of determining whether illegal “spying” occurred during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Other senior officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, have said they have seen no evidence of any such monkey business. That’s not good enough for Barr, who happens to be Wray’s boss. He wants Durham to scour the evidence and make an independent determination.

This assignment bothers me for two reasons.

One is that Donald Trump is involved. Given that I don’t trust him as far as I can toss his 239-pound body, I consider the president to be wholly non-credible on anything, on any issue. I don’t believe a word that flies out of his mouth. He yammers about the Mueller probe being a “witch hunt,” although the AG himself has said he doesn’t believe that to be the case.

The other reason is that Barr also has been acting and sounding more like the president’s personal lawyer than the nation’s chief law enforcer. He filed that four-page “summary” of Mueller’s findings, only to be criticized by Mueller for failing to provide the full context of what Mueller and his team concluded.

So now he has turned John Durham loose to look for determine what others have concluded already, that the Obama administration didn’t “spy” on Trump’s campaign.

Let’s wait for what the prosecutor learns.  I fear another tempest may be brewing.

Stand tall, Christopher Wray

FBI director Christopher Wray now finds himself in Donald Trump’s sights.

This is the fellow the president appointed to lead the FBI after firing his immediate predecessor, James Comey. Now it’s Director Wray who is receiving criticism from the president of the United States.

Why is that? Oh, let’s see. He declines to use the word “spying” when describing how the FBI conducts “intelligence-gathering” operations. Trump likes to use the words “spy” and “spying” when describing what he alleges occurred during the final months of the Obama administration, which he said involved illegal “spying” on the Trump presidential campaign.

Wray also has declined to endorse the idiocy promoted by Trump that suggests that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged “collusion” and “obstruction of justice” was an attempted “coup” by the FBI to “overthrow the president.”

No one has sought to launch a “coup” against Donald Trump. No one has sought to “overthrow” the president. That’s never happened. It won’t ever happen. We have this document called the U.S. Constitution that serves as a bulwark for this representative democracy that governs us.

Wray also has declared that Russia continues to interfere in our electoral process, just as it did during the 2016 presidential campaign. He smacks Trump squarely in the proverbial puss when he says what Trump continues to deny has occurred: that the Russians are supremely bad actors intent on sowing discord within this nation.

Christopher Wray is a seasoned professional. He runs the nation’s top law enforcement agency. He — just like Comey and Mueller, two former FBI directors — also possesses a first-class legal mind.

Donald Trump once again is attacking the agency led by someone he selected. He said over the weekend in yet another Twitter tidal wave that the FBI “has no leadership.”

Actually, the FBI does have competent leaders at the top of its chain of command. The lack of “leadership” exists inside the White House.

What? Lawyers shouldn’t be allowed to ask AG key questions?

U.S. Attorney General William Barr will be a no-show Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The AG doesn’t want to be quizzed by committee staff lawyers, which is what Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler had planned for his testimony.

Hey, wait a second!

Let’s recall the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A woman had come forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both much younger. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted the hearing, decided to punt on questioning the woman, Christine Ford, who testified before the panel.

Committee Republicans handed off the questioning of Ford to — are you ready for it? — staff lawyers!

So, what was good enough for an accuser testifying at that earlier hearing ought to be good enough for the attorney general. Isn’t that fair?

What’s more, Congress is entitled under Article I of the U.S. Constitution to set its own rules for the way it conducts its hearings. That decision doesn’t rest with those who testify before a congressional panel.

Thus, Attorney General William Barr is reaching way beyond his grasp in declaring he won’t appear before the House Judiciary Committee.