Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Supremes Diverge

Supremes Diverge

Until recently, we had an idea of where the justices of the Supreme Court stood. But today, a couple of recent decisions show that the predictable votes of the polarised members can no longer be predicted. In one Thomas and Rehnquist departed from Scalia (and the lefties), and in another, unanimity prevailed in a case where it could have never been predicted. What is going on?

THE CASES: In the first case, Gonzales v. Raich, the right of states to allow medical use of marijuana without federal interference was rejected by a six to three margin. Sandra Day O'Connor joined Clarence Thoman and Chief Justice William Rehnquist in confirming the fact that private use of locally grown medicine has no impact on interstate commerce. It appears that Scalia and Kennedy voted as they did simply because they oppose marijuana legalization, since they have heretofore been reliable votes to restrict unbridled federal power. Now it sems that the high court can see interstate commerce in a situation within a single state, involving no commerce. It must be nice to exercise power in a millieu without rules. It must also be nice to legislate your own personal morality, under color of authority. The very highest authority in the land.

In the second case, the Supreme Court threw out the June 2002 conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp. related documents, ruling unanimously that the jury instructions at the trial for the now-defunct company were improper.
The court ruled unanimously that the Houston jury that found Arthur Andersen LLP guilty of obstruction of justice was given overly broad instructions by the federal judge who presided at the trial.

As a result of the faulty instructions, the justices ruled, the firm was convicted without proof that its shredding of documents was deliberately intended to undermine a looming Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry in fall 2001. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon should have instructed the jury that the law required the government to prove that Andersen knew it was breaking the law, the court ruled.

"Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the [judge's] instructions required," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in the opinion for the court. "For example, the jury was told that, 'even if [Andersen] honestly and sincerely believed that its conduct was lawful, you may find [it] guilty.' " Legal analysts said the decision was a major setback to the Justice Department's corporate crime prosecutions.
We can understand that an aggressive prosecutor will ignore the law when he believes that he can attain a conviction. What we can not understand is how the trial judge, and then the appeal panel, can allow this sort of official lawlessness, when the parental control then finds unanimously that the emperor in the case wore no clothing. Meanwhile, 28,000 employees are out of work, and a venerable firm that never intended to break the law has been destroyed. In effect, the Bush Administration destroyed the largest of the Big 6 accounting firms and they were not even guilty. It is the most basic of tenets of our system of laws that a perpetrator must have intent to commit a crime in order to be found guilty. This unanimous ruling by the Supremes sets us back upon that path. Maybe now some prosecutors will stop attempting to criminalize civil, commercial misbehavior.

What is more important is that people come to realize that careerism is rampant in the prosecutorial ranks, where winning and making headlines has become much more important than rooting out crime, or discovering the truth. Further, judges will often ignore the law, and even good sense, when they believe that a greater good will ensue. Just yesterday a famous pedophile went free, because Tom Sneddon, the prosecutor, filed charges against a man without having enough evidence to convict. Sneddon evidently believed that he had enough to convict, when all he had was a few whisps of questionable evidence, which he thought that he could hang on his weird defendant. Kudos to that jury, for following the law. Jacko was obviously a man who needs help, but the law requires a clear showing, within the evidence, of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Too bad the Anderson jury followed the herd, instead of the law.