On the day after the 4th of July, I reported for my first-ever jury duty. A judge of the Superior Court gave the assembled 150 potential jurors a pep talk. She explained the importance of our participation in the legal process, and referred to a copy of the Constitution she held in her hand, and even to the Magna Carta, as she listed the freedoms guaranteed us in return for the sacrifice we were about to make as jurors. She spoke of the presumption of innocence; the right to be judged by our peers; and our protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
She also told us about how, long ago, the government, afraid that sentiment against war promulgated by the Society of Friends was growing too strong, had passed a law banning Quakers from assembling in groups, and how William Penn had gotten himself arrested for leading just such a gathering; how Penn had been tried by a jury of his peers and found innocent; how the governor was so angry at the decision that he again jailed Penn and the entire jury that had acquitted him; and how all had been quickly released because of our most precious legal right, the right of habeas corpus.
As she listed these freedoms, the presumption of innocence, the right to be judged by our peers, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right of habeas corpus, I had to restrain myself from shouting after each, “UNLESS THE PRESIDENT DECIDES OTHERWISE!”
I have become convinced that the war in Iraq is perhaps the least of the damages inflicted on our democracy by Bush, Cheney and their henchmen. We cannot afford another 18 months of this.
There have been calls for Bush and Cheney to resign, but there is no chance that they will – as even Nixon did – do the right thing. We must demand that our lily-livered Democratic majority in Congress bring articles of impeachment as soon as possible.
* * * *
Prominent architect Michael Folonis has designed an eye-catching modernist structure, but does it belong in the midst of the protected California Bungalows of the Third Street Historic District? Those of us who live in the District have responded with a resounding NO. The Historic District Guidelines state that new construction should “maintain overall building shapes that are similar to surrounding contributing buildings.” The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties states that new construction “shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property.” The proposed structure in no way meets these and other requirements of the Historic District and one wonders why the Landmarks Commission did not deny the project immediately.
The City of Santa Monica would clearly like to protect its historic homes where feasible and it is the mission of the Landmarks Commission to do so. Theirs is not an easy task. The scare-mongering tactics of the backers of Proposition A some years ago were an attempt to undermine historic preservation and use it as a wedge issue for political gain: fortunately voters saw through this ruse.
It is possible, however, that the recent timidity of the Landmarks Commission in protecting the Historic District is due to the insidious aftereffects of the Prop A battle. So to the Commissioners I say, “Courage, mes braves!” because those of us who wish to protect the Historic District need your support.
* * * *
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases – 57 in all – lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.
Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.
In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.
I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.
Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.
David R. Dow
Dow is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who represents death row inmates, including several who sought commutation from then-Governor Bush.