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It isn’t.

There are certain questions that shouldn’t need to be asked. Which, if they come up, are a sign that there is something deeply wrong with the kind of conversation that you’re having. Here’s an example of one, which recently appeared in my Google News feed:

For background on this case, which I’ve discussed here before when it was before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, see GT 2007-10-02: Public schooling. The story is back in the news because the case has reached the Supreme Court.

If you think that there is any reasonable debate to be had about whether it could possibly be legitimate or appropriate for government school officials to corral an unwilling 13-year-old girl into the school nurse’s office, then force her to undergo a humiliating strip-search, all in order to serve the Compelling State Interest of making sure that she wasn’t covertly carrying any ibuprofen on her person — and, this is, apparently, something that the most distinguished jurists of the government of the United States of America believe — then I will say that there is something deeply wrong with the kind of conversations that you are having about 13 year old girls, their rights, the role of schools in a humane society, and the prerogatives of the State. By the time you get around to trying to answer a question like that, it’s already too late; the fact that it was ever open for you says more than enough about you, and about the masters that you serve.

The Nine have decided, without explanation, to let the State of Georgia go ahead with its proposal to murder Troy Davis at a time and place of their choosing.

The Nine have decided, without explanation, to let the State of Georgia go ahead with its proposal to murder Troy Davis at a time and place of their choosing. They are apparently acting in the belief that making sure all the paperwork stays settled, preserving the institutions of monopolistic legal finality, and practicing due deference to other judges’ turf, matters more than something as paltry as whether or not an innocent man is about to be killed for a crime he did not commit.

Here is what I got last evening from Amnesty International USA:

Dear Charles,

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Troy Anthony Davis’ appeal. His fate is back in the hands of Georgia authorities who may seek a new execution date at any time.

The Supreme Court’s decision to deny Troy Davis’ petition means that no court of law will ever hold a hearing on the witnesses who have recanted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits.

Doubts about his guilt raised by these multiple witness recantations will never be resolved. An execution under such a cloud of doubt would undermine public confidence in the state’s criminal justice system and would be a grave miscarriage of justice.

The state of Georgia can still do the responsible thing and prevent the execution of Troy Davis:

Sincerely, Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

As I said in my earlier post:

First, I should say that, as a matter of fact, it does not matter to me — and it should not matter to you — one bit whether or not Troy Davis really is responsible for the killing he’s alleged to have committed, or, if he is responsible, whether or not the prosecution legitimate proved their case in the midst of what appears to have been a very dirty bit of business by the Gangsters in Blue. There seems to be good evidence for massive police misconduct, and for the likelihood of Davis’s innocence. This evidence is important, and let’s go ahead and scream about it as much as possible to the men and women sitting in the court and corrections system, if it will save Troy Davis from the gallows.

But, just between us, we need to remember that even if he were obviously guilty as hell, the State has no right to commit premeditated murder in order to make him pay for it. The penalty of death is the ultimate, definitive expression of the State’s cold and sadistic violence, exercised with no defensive purpose and against women and men who no longer pose any threat to any living soul, on the theory that in the end your body and your life belong to the State, and can be mutilated and destroyed by it, at its pleasure, for its own special purposes — whether to exact blood vengeance, or to send a message to unrelated third parties, cut into your body by the Harrow of the criminal justice system. It is nothing more and nothing less than State-sanctioned murder, and it ought to be abolished immediately, completely, and forever.

Second, you should also note, from this story, that in the view of the Georgia Supreme Court, final arbiter that it is, getting all the paperwork settled once and for all is apparently more important than whether or not an innocent man will be slaughtered on the basis of lying testimony extracted by intimidation and coercion at the hands of an overzealous police department, desperately seeking a black cop-killer to lynch. You may find this appalling; but it should not be surprising. This approach to The Law is essential to the very nature of the State and its legal system. Authority is held to take precedence over fact and evidence; imposed finality is held to take precedence over justice, even when it comes to punishments that are utterly irreversible, destroying forever any hope of appeal. Otherwise, anyone might just go around any old time and prove somebody’s innocence and spring them from the prisons or the gallows, a judge’s say-so notwithstanding; a journalist’s expose or an ad hoc committee’s discoveries and reasoned decisions might be just as good as that the Nine. Without sovereign authority to stand between the people and justice, doing justice would be nothing a mere human institution, open to anybody who can do some research and submit facts to a candid world. Why, it’d be Anarchy! So instead, paying due deference and having the right stamp on the right papers and uttering the right ritual incantations is held to be more important than somehing so paltry as a man’s life. That is the Majesty of the Law; that is its morality; that is its justice.

Here is an early modern engraving of a ghastly skeleton, robed and crowned, holds a sceptre and a polished glass with the words, THE MIRROR THAT FLATTERS NOT.

The Final Arbiter

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U.S. Supreme Court grants reprieve to Troy Davis

The United States Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution to stop, at least for the time being, the State-mandated murder of Troy Davis.

The State of Georgia was planning to murder Troy Davis about an hour ago. They were planning to do so even though his conviction was based entirely on the testimony of nine eye-witnesses, seven of whom have since recanted their testimony and claimed that they were intimidated into giving false testimony by threats from the cops. Neither physical evidence nor a murder weapon was ever produced by the police. But the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons refused to give Davis a new evidentiary hearing, to investigate whether or not this man was about to be murdered based on nothing but lies, because a man’s life means nothing next to the importance of finality in the State’s criminal system. Yesterday the Georgia Supreme Court refused to stay the execution because, in their view, U.S. Supreme Court properly has jurisdiction over Davis’ pending petition, and a man’s life means nothing next to the importance of due deference to another judge’s turf. Never mind that, under normal circumstances, the U.S. Supreme Court would not even have been ready to hear Troy Davis’s plea for a new evidentiary hearing until after the State of Georgia killed Davis. Thankfully, after agreeing to an emergency hearing, the Supreme Court did the right thing and put a halt to the killing, at least until after Davis’s petition can be heard.

JACKSON, Georgia (CNN) — The U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute reprieve to a Georgia man fewer than two hours before he was to be executed for the 1989 slaying of an off-duty police officer. Troy Anthony Davis, 39, has his execution stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Troy Anthony Davis learned that his execution had been stayed when he saw it on television, he told CNN via telephone in his first interview after the stay was announced.

He said he was thankful to God for the news that came during an emergency session the U.S. Supreme Court convened.

Davis said everyone should pray for the slain officer’s family.

The 39-year-old also said that he is very grateful for everything that everyone is doing for him and that he would accept whatever decision the Supreme Court rendered in the coming days about his case.

At the Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, a crowd of Davis’ supporters, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, erupted in cheers when Sharpton announced the stay. Some shouted Hallelujah!

— Rusty Dornin, CNN (2008-09-23): U.S. Supreme Court stays Georgia execution

And Amen.

(Thanks to mi hermana for making my day better with this story.)

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Ihre Papiere, bitte

From Drug War Chronicle (2008-08-22): Feature: The Drug Checkpoint That Wasn’t — Louisiana Lawmen Play Fast and Loose with the Constitution:

In its 2000 decision in Indianapolis v. Edmond, the US Supreme Court held that the city’s effort to attack the drug trade by holding a checkpoint to look for drugs was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection of the right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures. But in the years since then, a handful of departments across the county, usually in the South, have brazenly trumpeted their resort to drug checkpoints.

The latest department to step into the breach was Louisiana’s Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office, which held such a checkpoint last Thursday night near the town of Starks. Following the lead of sheriff’s deputies, the local newspaper was all over the story.

Narcotics checkpoint a success, blared the headline in Monday’s Derrider Daily News story on the police action. The article went on to explain how, following complaints of drug dealing in the neighborhood, police decided to take action:

The Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office set up a Narcotics Checkpoint Thursday night near Starks, Louisiana, the local paper reported. Due to several complaints coming from the Fields area, the BPSO put together a joint operation with the help of Sheriff Ricky Moses and the DeRidder city police department. The operations utilized several BPSO deputies as well as the new Drug Interdiction team led by Detectives Dale Sharp and Greg Hill. Seven police units total were used for the operation in addition to four other units performing regular patrols.

The checkpoint resulted in three arrests for marijuana and hydrocodone possession, a quarter pound of marijuana being tossed from an unknown vehicle’s window, and a number of traffic citations.

If this really was a drug checkpoint, it is clearly unconstitutional, said Steve Silverman, executive director of the constitutional rights defense group Flex Your Rights.

Well, O.K., whatever. If you are ever hauled into court as the result of one of these checkpoints, that’s important information to have. But the problem is that cops are, as a rule, better at manipulating the court than you are; they are trained in how to exploit loopholes, how to manipulate people, and how to get cheap sympathy from judges and juries. As Silverman himself says:

If people went to court and fought it, the evidence would be dismissed — unless they consented to a search. The sheriff down there must know checkpoints like this are constitutionally questionable, but they can still ask people to consent, and they know how to phrase that request in such a way that people are likely to consent, he said.

The problem with these roadblocks and checkpoints by uniformed highwaymen, which impose blanket screening of ordinary people by police and which intimidate or force everyone to submit to interrogation and searches, treating anyone who happens to be on a particular road as a presumptive criminal, who needs to prove her innocence to the police in order to be left alone to go about her own business, based on no probable cause whatever — and all in order to find and imprison a handful of nonviolent drug traffickers, who are violating absolutely nobody’s rights, who are doing a peaceful and productive service for willing customers, whose only crime was to defy a senseless government prohibition on the kinds of chemicals that people may willingly put into their own bodies — the problem with that, I say, has nothing to do with whether these internal checkpoints and constrictions on peaceful people’s freedom of movement and security in their persons and effects, happen to be consistent or inconsistent with a fundamentalist reading of the words scribbled onto a 200-year-old piece of paper. The real problem is not that this kind of Ihre Papiere, bitte treatment is unconstitutional; it’s that it’s tyrannical. Tyranny is bad enough whether or not the Nine can be convinced that it can be excused on a legal technicality, and the reasons why are moral, not constitutional. Even when cops can invent absurd technicalities in order to convince a judge (who is always willing to be convinced that another State employee was acting within bounds) that their extraction of searches through intimidation, coercion, and the inevitable recourse to the threat of arbitrary arrest on any of the countless vague laws that nobody can possibly avoid violating in daily life, all somehow amounts to consent. And those of us who oppose the drug war, and the police state that has emerged in order to prosecute it, ought to be more clear and less timid about saying so. We don’t need The Law on our side to be right. If the Constitution allows that kind of brigandry and tyranny, then the Constitution itself is tyrannical. If the Constitution does not allow it, then it has been demonstrated as thoroughly as you please that the Constitution can do nothing effective to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist, and certainly undeserving of our deferential appeals.

In related news, holiday bloggers should keep in mind that there are only 7 more ranting days left before International Ignore the Constitution Day.

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