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September 29, 2005

Courting Injustice

The Washington Post has a good editorial on a hugely important, and wholly undernoticed, bill currently winding its way through Congress:

TODAY, THE SENATE Judiciary Committee takes up the so-called Streamlined Procedures Act, a bill that radically scales back federal review of state convictions and death sentences. Calling what this bill does "streamlining" is a little like calling a scalping a haircut. A better name would have been the Eliminating Essential Legal Protections Act. What it does, in effect, is curtail the federal role in policing constitutional violations in state criminal justice systems using the venerable mechanism of habeas corpus. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has moderated some of the worst provisions, but this bill is beyond rehabilitation. If it passes, the chances that innocent people will be executed will go way up.

Even after Mr. Specter's efforts, the bill creates onerous procedural hurdles for convicts. It tries to speed up habeas corpus proceedings by making it easier for convicts to lose their right to appeal to federal courts.

Blech. One of the few decent moments of Bush's most recent State of the Union was his eloquent call for more DNA testing to ensure guilt and prove innocence in those convicted for serious crimes. That the Republican majority is now trying to push suspects through the Court system because the redundancies ensuring just outcomes are proving burdensome is a sad commentary on exactly who it is they've decided they're working for.

This is one of those issues where long periods of Republican rule and enough demagoguery to render already-spineless Democrats complicit have created some really nasty outcomes. Our prison system is a mess, overcrowded by a fruitless war on drugs and packed with felons whose convictions are, in the light of new evidence, proving questionable at best. Meanwhile, we're arresting, convicting, and mistreating so many people that nearly everyone files appeal after appeal, at least when they have the money or severity of punishment to do so, gumming up the justice system and slowing things down.

But that's the problem with the presumtpion, and emphasis, our system offers innocence. This is just a way to sidestep that. Everyone from the National Conference of Chief Justices to the American Bar Association to former Rep. Mickey Edwards (who was part of the House Republican Leadership) opposes this attempt to shred Habeas Corpus. And if that weren't enough? Here are 13 folks who were wrongly convicted, eventually exonerated, but would've instead languished under the rules of this Act. That's not the sort of thing we should even be risking. And yet, for no apparent reason and to fulfill no obvious need, we are. If money to create new Courts, hire more judges, and push more people through the system was the issue, they could dial back the pork or stop giving Halliburton cash to misplace. As it is, they're going to ruin some lives because it's the path of least resistance.

September 29, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

It's also one of those beautiful traps the Republicans like to set for the Dems. The Dems know that if they were to openly oppose this bill, the Republicans would have a field day demagoging them as soft on crime. They'd trot out victims of rapists and families of murder victims and accuse the Dems of denying them justice and siding with the criminals. It would be the Homeland Security bill all over again.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Sep 29, 2005 1:02:59 PM

Ezra, feel free to comment on Joe Biden's ridiculous Rave Act that he attached to the Amber Alart Bill. I mean c'mon Joe, I'm one of your view far left supporters, are you TRYING to lose me too?

Posted by: Adrock | Sep 29, 2005 5:28:15 PM

Yeah, it happened awhile back. Just trying to show that Democrats do it too and it pisses me off.

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