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Death Penalty Repeal Fails in Montana

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Mike Dennison reports in the Montana Standard:

The state House deadlocked Monday 50-50 on a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana, likely killing the measure for the 2015 Legislature.
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Monday's vote fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans against it - but it took three of the House's 41 Democrats voting "no" to reject the bill, which would abolish the death penalty in Montana and substitute it with life in prison without parole. Montana has two murderers on death row.
While the vote is welcome, it is unfortunate and worrisome that they got that close.  Repeal supporters have swung marginal votes with arguments that the process takes too long and costs too much, when the obvious answer is to make in faster and, in the process, cheaper.

The way to make review of death penalty cases faster and cheaper while making it more reliable with regard to genuine miscarriages of justice is to limit all repeated reviews, after the first full round of review, to questions with some bearing on actual innocence. 

The Road Ahead For Oregon

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John Kitzhaber is no longer Governor of Oregon.  There is no news of his issuing any death row commutations on his way out the door.  AP has this story on a noncapital commutation. 

Kitzhauber's December 6, 2011 reprieve, quoted in the Oregon Supreme Court's decision in Haugen v. Kitzhaber, S060761 (June 20, 2013), reads,

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article V, Section 14 of the Oregon Constitution, I, John A. Kitzhaber, MD, Governor of the State of Oregon, hereby grant Gary D. Haugen a temporary reprieve of the aforementioned death sentence for the duration of my service as Governor.
The duration of his service is over.  The reprieve is over.  What next?

The new Governor, until-today Secretary of State Kate Brown, can and should allow the law to take its course.  The primary thing wrong with the death penalty is that the judgments take too long to carry out.  Imposing a moratorium as a remedy makes no more sense than the nineteenth-century doctors bleeding patients as a remedy.

But will she?
I want to follow up on my post yesterday, "An Amazing Fantasy," to show how the New York Times, one of the most prominent cheerleaders for lower criminal sentences, attempts to advance its cause.  Let me cut to the chase.  Its principal means are condescension and deceit.  In this, it is all too representative of the movement for which it speaks.

I will begin by analyzing yesterday's editorial one piece at a time.  As you will see, there is barely a sentence in it that's not condescending or deceptive or both.

The Best Case Yet for Loretta Lynch

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A significant number of conservatives believe Loretta Lynch should be confirmed simply because she is not Eric Holder. Personally, I have my doubts, but that view of things got bolstered significantly by Mr. Holder's Twilight Zone remarks about radical Islam and  --  ready?  --  Fox News.  This piece is just delicious:

There is a recurrent fantasy within the Obama administration that they could get away with anything, if only that damn Fox News would shut up. Well, sometimes that could be true. But other times, it's delusional. Like when Eric Holder blamed Fox News for Islamic radicalism:

Whenever you're getting criticized by both sides, it probably means you're probably getting it right. We spend more time, more time talking about what you call it, as opposed to what do you do about it, you know? I mean really. If Fox didn't talk about this, they would have nothing else to talk about, it seems to me.

Sure. It's not the beheadings, the burning alive, the selling of women into slavery, the parading of prisoners in cages that has people concerned about Islamic extremism. It's not reality, it's Fox News! But what is Holder's point? Why is the administration so allergic to acknowledging that the terrorists who are wreaking havoc are Islamic radicals?

Radical Islam, Islamic extremism; I'm not sure an awful lot is gained by saying that. It doesn't have any impact on our military posture; it doesn't have any impact on what we call it, on the policies that we put in place.


As if we had a policy in place to put these ISIS savages out of business.

Awkward

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An Amazing Fantasy

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And no, this is not about that fantasy.

It's about the New York Times's latest editorial pushing softer treatment for criminals (a/k/a "sentencing reform").  There are a number of howlers in the piece, but I want to start with this one:

Mr. Grassley [Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee], for reasons that defy basic fairness and empirical data, has remained an opponent of almost any reduction of [federal] sentences. In a speech from the Senate floor this month, he called the bills "lenient and, frankly, dangerous," and he raised the specter of high-level drug traffickers spilling onto the streets.

Mr. Grassley is as mistaken as he is powerful. Mandatory minimums have, in fact, been used to punish many lower-level offenders who were not their intended targets. Meanwhile, the persistent fantasy that locking up more people leads to less crime continues to be debunked. States from California to New York to Texas have reduced prison populations and crime rates at the same time. A report released last week by the Brennan Center for Justice found that since 2000 putting more people behind bars has had essentially no effect on the national crime rate.


The Times's claim about the "persistent fantasy" that increased incarceration produces less crime is stupid, dishonest and false.

A Bizarre Situation with a Predictable Ending

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Kent noted the on-again-off-again resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon. The Governor's tenure just got off again, this time it seems for good.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday, after alleged ethical breaches involving his fiancee prompted a criminal investigation.

Just months after being re-elected to a fourth term, Mr. Kitzhaber, a 67-year-old Democrat, bowed to mounting pressure to resign after media reports that his fiancee, first lady Cylvia Hayes, was allegedly being paid to represent an array of interest groups at the same time she was helping formulate policies in his administration that involved those groups.

Oregon has no office of lieutenant governor, so Mr. Kitzhaber will be succeeded by another Democrat, Secretary of State Kate Brown.

The Wall Street Journal has the story



Preventive Medicine

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In this interview at CNN, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains why she dozed off during President Obama's State of the Union Address.

I really can't blame her.  If I had to listen to President Obama for an hour, I would want a snort or three myself.  Scalia, J., concurs.

See also this article at the Washington CBS affiliate and this article by Robert Barnes at the WaPo.

A Bizarre and Unprecedented Situation

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The title of this post is the Oregon Secretary of State's description of the situation with that state's governor. Alejandro Lazo reports for the WSJ:

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is facing a mounting political crisis, as influence-peddling allegations involving his fiancée have spurred a criminal investigation by the state's attorney general and calls for his resignation from leaders of his own Democratic Party.

Just months after being re-elected to a record fourth term, Mr. Kitzhaber is under pressure to step down following media reports that his fiancée, first lady Cylvia Hayes, was being paid to represent an array of interest groups at the same time that she was helping formulate policies in his administration that involved those groups.

Oregon has no lieutenant governor, a wise choice.  The Secretary of State is next in line.  As I read Article V § 8a of the Oregon Constitution, it seems to say that the SecState would serve until "the next biennial election," in which a Governor would be elected to serve out the last two years of Kitzhaber's term.  The section is not a model of draftsmanship, though. 

Section 14 does not have any limitations on the commutation power for murder, so he could pull a Ryan and clear out death row before going to jail or wherever he is going after the governor's office.
It recently came out that Barack Obama lied when, as a candidate in 2008, he said he opposed same sex marriage.  He was for it from the getgo, as almost everyone around him knew.  But it would have posed electoral problems for him to tell the truth, so he didn't.  He correctly calculated that, at the time, lying would bring in more votes.

This revelation will come as a surprise to very few people.  This is, after all, the same man who, also for political gain, assured us that, "if you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance," knowing as he spoke that this was false.  Both the premises and the specific requirements of Obamacare made it certain that millions would lose their insurance, which they did.

For purposes of this blog, the question arises whether Obama is also lying when he says he supports the death penalty.  And make no mistake, this is indeed his stated position when campaigning in his home state:

I believe that the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances. There are extraordinarily heinous crimes, terrorism, the harm of children, in which it may be appropriate. Obviously we've had some problems in this state, in the application of the death penalty and that's why a moratorium was put in place and that's why I was so proud to be one of the leaders in making sure that we overhauled it, death penalty system that was broken. For example, passing the first in the nation videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases. We have to have this ultimate sanction for certain circumstances in which the entire community says this is beyond the pale.

Is that what he actually thinks, or will that position, like his opposition to gay marriage, go over the side of the boat for political and/or ideological reasons?

Are Prosecutors Right Wing Extremists?

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To listen to most of the press and a great deal of the blogosphere, you'd think so. Time and again we hear that they're nothing but knuckle-dragging bullies and extortionists, routinely forcing innocent people in society's lower classes to falsely swear guilt in order to escape some "draconian" (do you ever hear of any other kind?) sentence.

Several days ago, Adam Liptak of the NYT wrote a fascinating piece that discusses the political inclinations of lawyers.  The piece was focused on the politics of judges, and introduced by the title, "Why Judges Tilt to the Right."

Now you would think, from that title, that you're about to read that judges are somewhere off there, between, say, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee, which under any normal definition would be "tilting right."

Wrongo.  You have to read down the page to find out that most judges tilt left.  But I thought what was said about prosecutors was even more interesting.
The kerfuffle over the measles vaccine is off-topic for the blog.  It is also ultra vires (not virus) for CJLF.  I have watched the discussion with some interest, though, particularly the propensity of media outlets of a given orientation to ascribe anti-vaccine beliefs to the other side.  Crunching some actual numbers was a fun project (in a nerdy sense of fun) for a soggy Saturday here on the Left Coast, and I found some interesting things about how political orientation relates to an essentially nonpolitical subject.

Eric Holder's Political DOJ

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Having at one point been a political appointee in the Justice Department, I see nothing wrong with a President's putting in place the people he wants to advance the priorities he prefers.  That's one of the reasons we have elections.

To say that, however, is not to say that politics ought properly infuse everything the Department does.  The tradition is that DOJ is more or less faithful to the Executive's constitutional duty to see that the law is faithfully executed.

One could not say that has been the case with Eric Holder.  His de facto repeal of mandatory minimum statutes for a class of cases he, rather than Congress, determined, is the example that first comes to my mind.  Others would point to his use of an engorged version of prosecutorial "discretion" in declining to enforce large swaths of immigration law.

This article takes a closer look at the breathtaking extent to which Holder has jammed politics into the Department's day-to-day operations.  One can hope it will be better under Loretta Lynch.  I have my doubts.

No Dice on Federal Pot Legalization

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The prospects that federal law will be changed to legalize marijuana took a huge step back yesterday when AG nominee Loretta Lynch said that she does not support legalization.  The NPR report states:

During her first day of confirmation hearings for attorney general, nominee Loretta Lynch gave answers that seemed in line with President Obama. But then she was asked about marijuana, and whether she supports legalizing it.

"Senator, I do not," Lynch told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when he asked whether she supports making pot legal.

And that is that, for the foreseeable future.  The betting is that Lynch will be confirmed as Attorney General, and if Obama's AG does not support federal legalization, it isn't going to happen during this administration, period.  It got nowhere in the last Congress, which was more liberal than the current one, and Ms. Lynch's position is visibly more hostile to pot than Eric Holder's has been.

Still, I should add three things.  First, this is a point in Ms. Lynch's favor as far as I'm concerned.  Second, I expect that, if Ms. Lynch becomes AG, pot enforcement will remain a relatively low priority, which it has been for years (other drugs being even more hazardous).  Third, as ever, CJLF takes no position on pot legalization. 



Getting Real on the AG Nomination

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Bill linked yesterday to the live-blogging at Powerline on the nomination hearings for Loretta Lynch as Attorney General.  To watch video yourself, cruise on over to C-SPAN.  At the WSJ, Andrew Grossman and Devlin Barrett have this article on the "relatively tame" hearing.  Also at Powerline, John Hinderaker has this apoplectic post titled Loretta Lynch Must Not Be Confirmed, focusing on immigration.

A note to my fellow conservatives:  Get a grip and get real.

Elections have consequences.  We live in a country where a majority of the voters chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney.  We may consider that choice profoundly stupid, but that's democracy -- the worst form of government except for all the others.

If Loretta Lynch is not Attorney General, who do you think will be?  Somebody better?  Get real.  We want the best AG we can get, and as long as Barack Obama is President, "best" means the best from among the subset of people he might choose.  Call that "least bad" if you like, but that's where we are.

The Constitution vests all executive authority in the President.  Everyone else in the branch works for him.  He is going to nominate people who agree with him on policy, and that's how it works from now until January 20, 2017.  Judicial nominations are different.  For executive officers, the Senate pretty much lets the President appoint who he wants, and it has been that way for both parties.

If Ms. Lynch is not confirmed, as Mr. Hinderaker demands, who will be Attorney General?  Eric Holder will stay on until the next nominee is confirmed.  The next nominee will not be any less aligned with the Obama/Holder policies than the present one.  So the chances of having someone better as AG would be slim in the long run and absolute zero in the short run.

The WSJ article says, "Several Republicans suggested that simply by not being Mr. Holder, Ms. Lynch's chances of confirmation were improved."

Roger that.

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