Judges threatened?

[Updated] There’s been a fair amount of comment in progressive media about possibly physical and other threats being made against judges in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case. A lot of it arises from the Confronting the Judicial War on Faith conference, “remarkable in bringing together lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers with unabashed theocrats,” held last week and I’ve tended to think it overblown. Writing for Salon.com, Michelle Goldberg worries:

It is a challenge to know how seriously to take this sort of thing. The world inhabited by most of those at the conference seems so at odds with empirical reality that one expects it to collapse around them. With each new lunacy perpetrated by religious fundamentalists, progressives tell each other than any second the pendulum will swing the other way and some equilibrium will return to our national life. They’ve been telling each other that for more than four years. But the influence of religious authoritarianism keeps growing.

Max Blumenthal, writing for The Nation, sees it as a calculated tactic:

The threatening tenor of the conference speakers was a calculated tactic. As Gary Cass, the director of Rev. D. James Kennedy’s lobbying front, the Center for Reclaiming America, explained, they are arousing the anger of their base in order to harness it politically. The rising tide of threats against judges “is understandable,” Cass told me, “but we have to take the opportunity to channel that into a constitutional solution.”

I’m not inclined to regard The Washington Post as progressive, but there too, Dana Milbank offers an alarming perspective.

Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of “Remedies to Judicial Tyranny” decided that [Supreme Court Justice] Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse….

Ominously, [lawyer-author Edwin] Vieira continued by saying his “bottom line” for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. “He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: ‘no man, no problem,’ ” Vieira said.

This is a particularly alarming passage. Milbank and Blumenthal both offer the full quotation, that “Death solves all problems: no man, no problem.” In her article, Milbank explains the particular relevance:

A judge in Atlanta and the husband and mother of a judge in Chicago were murdered in recent weeks. After federal courts spurned a request from Congress to revisit the Terri Schiavo case, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said that “the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) mused about how a perception that judges are making political decisions could lead people to “engage in violence.”

As Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s chief of staff Michael Schwartz told Blumenthal, “I’m a radical! I’m a real extremist. I don’t want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!”

“The people who have been speaking out on this, like Tom DeLay and Senator Cornyn, need to be backed up,” [Phyllis] Schlafly said to applause [Friday]. One worker at the event wore a sticker declaring “Hooray for DeLay.”

What seems odd to me is a relative lack of outrage over such remarks. If President George Bush were the subject of these remarks, rather than the judiciary, or if the source of these comments were considered leftist, rather than evangelical, surely the press would pick up on this a lot more. As it is, the Washington Post published this story on page A03.

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times also sounds a note of alarm, but seems to share the impression that DeLay merely wants to assert legislative control over the courts. That’s quite bad enough. The so-called Constitutional Restoration Act would “restrict federal courts from ruling on anything involving God or basing any rulings on the precedents of foreign courts (for instance, in death penalty cases)” and “is sponsored in Congress by Sens. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Reps. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.). The Los Angeles Times is not in favor. “Judicial independence is one of this nation’s distinguishing traits and a hallmark of our constitutional scheme. To endure, our democracy requires that legislators respect the independence of the judiciary, even when it comes to decisions they don’t like.”

Blumenthal describes the bill more harshly:

Cass’s “solution” is the “Constitution Restoration Act,” a bill relentlessly promoted during the conference that authorizes Congress to impeach judges who fail to abide by “the standard of good behavior” required by the Constitution. If they refuse to acknowledge “God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government,” or rely in any way on international law in their rulings, judges also invite impeachment. In essence, the bill would turn judges’ gavels into mere instruments of “The Hammer,” Tom DeLay, and Christian-right cadres.

Goldberg quotes Michael Schwartz, who said:

“This problem that we’re dealing with fundamentally is a question of sovereignty,” he said. He went on to argue that, “when the Supreme Court says that there is a right to kill babies in the Constitution and therefore we can’t have laws against that, or there is a right to commit buggery in the Constitution and we can’t have laws against that,” it implicitly asserts that “the people have no right to make laws.”

“As long as the Supreme Court purports to “grade the papers of Congress” — in other words, to evaluate its laws — “it is counter to the very basis of this republic.” Thus, until America throws out the [principle] of judicial review, “it is a sick and sad joke to claim we have a Constitution.”

Blumenthal quoted former presidential candidate Alan Keyes:

“Ronald Reagan said the Soviet Union was the focus of evil during the cold war. I believe that the judiciary is the focus of evil in our society today,” Keyes declared, slapping the lectern for emphasis.

Finally, Goldberg cites a prayer offered at the conference that seems to call for Judge Greer’s death, following remarks by David Gibbs, attorney for the Schindlers:

“Father, we echo the words of the apostle Paul, because we know Judge Greer claims to be a Christian. So as the Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 5, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus.”

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