Gorsuch And The “Frozen Trucker” Case

READ: CNN: “Judge Gorsuch and the frozen truck driver” by Paul Callan

This fine article was an eye-opener for me. To many of us, it first seemed Gorsuch, though conservative, had a good record and “was the best we could get” under the circumstances.

(1) FACTS: The company truck’s brakes were defective or improperly maintained. Brake lines “freeze” because there is water in the brake lines; brake fluid does not freeze. The company was negligent, possibly criminally so if they had been on trial. They were derelict in their responsibility and promise to provide help in a timely manner in freezing weather. They ignored the driver’s repeated calls for help and his statement that his legs were becoming numb and he was having trouble breathing – the truck cab heater was defective too, and he was almost out of gas.

(2) Gorsuch ignored the responsibilities of the company in the matter, concentrating instead on what he presumed were the driver’s “duties.” Gorsuch ignored the health and safely of the driver. Every judge makes bad decisions, later to be regretted, but there’s an even more telling problem with this man.

(3) The article states: “Gorsuch was demonstrating his firm belief in the principle that the actual words of a law should be strictly applied by the court. This doctrine, often referred to as textualism, stands for the proposition that it is up to the legislature to make the law and is up to judges to strictly apply the actual words of the law. “

OUT OF ALL the considerations with which the law provides us, not least of which is following California Motor Vehicle statutes and protecting the health and safety of the driver and the public, Gorsuch focused on insubordination and dereliction of duty because the dispatcher ordered the driver to remain in the freezing truck.

(4) In other words, like Scalia, here is another man who, under the textualism doctrine,  cherry-picks his statutes in order to reach a verdict that is politically and personally pleasing to himself.

CONCLUSION: Gorsuch is not qualified to be a judge, period. Until we get a fair-minded candidate who shows an ability to look at all the facts, prioritize them and evaluate them in the broader context of all US law,  in order from trivial to essential, we should block GOP nominees for the ninth SCOTUS chair until Hell freezes over, if that’s what it takes to get a nominee committed to preserve and protect the Constitution and the individual rights of its citizens.

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The Willingham Execution

I may have read the September 2009 New Yorker article about this disturbing case. But it’s so sordid I may have just passed it over.

It was actually while watching last night’s disturbing PBS FRONTLINE broadcast that the full impact of this 2004 Texas execution dawned on me. Essentially, the State of Texas executed a man for a crime the DA couldn’t prove, because it didn’t happen that way, and the reason no one was interested in a stay of execution, from the DA to the Governor to the U.S. Supreme Court, is that Willingham, by all accounts, was a dirtbag.

The case is so disturbing it’s difficult to watch on television. Todd Willingham was a bully, a blowhard, a wife-beater, an alcoholic, and a liar and prevaricator. He couldn’t hold a job, showed no ambition to become the family bread-winner, and had numerous petty crime convictions. When the fire department arrived, Willingham was standing barefoot on the front porch, crying, while his three babies burned alive in a family bedroom. Local fire department investigators could not determine any cause for accidental fire. They determined they had evidence of an accelerant, like charcoal lighter fluid, being poured on the floor of the family dwelling where three babies died.

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Justice Kennedy quote

According to the San Francisco Chronicle (11-5-2006), regarding a 2000 Nebraska abortion case, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy took “an emotion dissenting opinion” in which he said that states should be able to outlaw

“A procedure many decent and civilized people find so abhorrent as to be among the most serious of crimes against human life.”

Whether you happen to support or oppose abortion rights, there’s something horribly flawed in this argument that threatens all of us. To read it coming from a Justice of the Supreme Court is disturbing, to say the least.

Logically, the argument for outlawing anything “that most people find abhorrent” can be used against anything. Historically, we find it used to support, among other things: ethnic cleansing, anti-gay laws, racism, and suppression of forms of free speech with which some people do not agree.

Not only can it be used for these things, it is. One can only imagine a future civilization which strongly supports a woman’s right to her own body. In such a society, do you think people with strong anti-abortion views should be criminalized for attacking popular civil liberties?

There’s a good reason why there’s no room in the Constitution for emotional litmus tests. They short-circuit the requirement of tying the law to established constitutional rights. Depending on the shifting quicksand moods and whims of public opinion, you could end up being the victim of such “reasoning”. What a shame to see this rhetoric coming from the highest bench seat in the land.

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“Silence Means Prison”

How much power can a grand jury have?

In the high-visibility BALCO sports doping case, company president Victor Conte and four other defendants have already pleaded guilty. He spent four months in prison for his role in an illegal steroid doping scheme.

No imperiled fair maiden remains tied to the railroad tracks. No federal prosecutor can still say he wants to “send a message” to sports youth. But the grand jury is just shifting into high gear. During the hearings, somebody leaked confidential testimony to the press. Aided by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, the grand jury intends to compel the press to tell who leaked the testimony.

“When do we get to choose what laws we’re going to obey?”, asks Judge White. To prove his point, he’s offered San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams a choice: divulge your sources, or spend 1-1/2 years in jail — the maximum sentence allowed by law.
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Emma Goldman: History Lesson

Here is a one hundred year old history lesson which seems just as timely today as it did then.

I caught part of a PBS documentary on Emma Goldman Sunday night. Goldman died in 1940, before I was born. I had never heard of Goldman before. She had been tarred by her association with various “anarchist” movement figures in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Her actual contribution to modern American thinking seems to have focused on improved working conditions for workers, abortion rights, and equal rights for women (“feminism”). How awful!

image from WikipediaI switched off KSCM-TV at 11PM and turned in. I resolved to Google the topic in the morning. What piqued my interest was an extraordinarily visceral hatred of Goldman by certain interest groups in the United States, including the FBI. This woman appeared to promote a politically and economically secure labor force, women’s rights and, more generally, civil liberty. As a civil libertarian and card-carrying ACLU member, I already know that taking liberty and justice “too seriously” is a sure-fire way to arouse the ire of conservative ideologues.
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A Troubling Freedom of Press Case

U.S. District Judge William Alsup sentenced freelance photographer Josh Wolf, 24, to what could be a year in federal prison for contempt of court. Wolf, citing a right to withold unpublished material, refused to surrender a videotape he shot of a 2005 anarchist demonstration, in which a San Francisco police officer suffered a skull fracture at the hands of protesters.

Portions of the tape had been broadcast on network news, but the grand jury wanted the whole thing. Aspiring journalist Wolf’s standing as a professional under the First Amendment was questioned, and federal prosecutors also cited the fact that Wolf had not promised anyone he would not divulge the source of his information.
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Supreme Court Earthquake

The nation will soon become even more polarized with the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and anticipated resignation of ailing Justice William Rehnquist, 80.

Religious conservatives are viewing this as a golden opportunity to remodel the United States to more closely fit their religious political views. Liberals, civil libertarians and church-vs-state separatists fear loss of ground held or gained in the last several decades. As the Court goes, there could be big losses for civil rights, abortion rights, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of expression and impartial education of future generations.
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Geheime Staatspolizei

How far is too far?

If you know enough German to recognize this title, you know where this is headed. And we certainly hope it isn’t.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1933Here is a theme people have been eying nervously for over 50 years: the omnipotent and unaccountable state, flanked by its unassailable secret police. It is easy to over-sell. We don’t advocate Chicken Little histrionics. But the twenty-first century Big Brother model sports not only omnipotence, but the electronic and digital wherewithal to become omniscient. Are we closer than ever before? Just how close to the edge are we?
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“Dog Mauling Trial”

We’re convinced that defendants Knoller and Noel got a fair verdict – guilty on all counts – for the murder of Diane Whipple. Marjorie Knoller was convicted of both second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Robert Noel, who was out of town on the fatal night, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. We never understood why the media kept calling it a “dog mauling”; it was assault with deadly weapons. Even in the far simpler case of benevolent owners and gentle large dogs, dog owners should take note: if something terrible happens and your pet kills or maims in an unprovoked attack on an innocent human, you need to accept full responsibility — and the consequences. We never bought into any of the defense arguments; none of them were credible. On appeal, watch for a forceful argument based on the contemptible and incompetent conduct of defense attorney Nedra Ruiz.

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