[Vision2020] Larry Craig’s Great Adventure: Suddenly, He’s a Civil Libertarian
Gray Tree Crab aka Big Bertha
gray.treecrab.aka.big.bertha at gmail.com
Mon Sep 24 14:02:15 PDT 2007
September 24, 2007
Larry Craig's Great Adventure: Suddenly, He's a Civil Libertarian
By ADAM COHEN
Senator Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, will ask a judge this week
to reverse his conviction for soliciting sex from an undercover police
officer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. He should prevail. Mr.
Craig did nothing illegal, and the law he was convicted under should
be held unconstitutional.
It is hard, though, to be entirely sympathetic. Mr. Craig, who is
asking the court to take the extraordinarily pro-defendant step of
undoing his guilty plea, has been a rubber stamp for the Bush
administration's drive to stock the courts with judges who have utter
contempt for civil liberties — and for claims like his own.
After his arrest, Mr. Craig was called hypocritical for his
longstanding opposition to gay rights in Congress. His legal defense,
though, presents a different inconsistency. He joins a long list of
conservatives who believe in a fair legal system only for themselves.
Mr. Craig pleaded guilty to a dubious charge of disorderly conduct
after under-the-stall toe-tapping and shoe-bumping with an undercover
police officer. His gestures may have been moving toward an illegal
act — sexual indecency in a public place or prostitution — but it is
hard to see what crime he committed by sending coded signals to a
seemingly willing participant.
The American Civil Liberties Union has come to Mr. Craig's defense.
It says the law he was convicted under — criminalizing "offensive,
obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct" that tends to "alarm,
anger or disturb others" — is unconstitutionally vague, and makes a
lot of perfectly harmless speech illegal. It's right. If boisterous
conduct that disturbs others is a crime in Minnesota, the state must
be planning mass arrests of the speakers at the 2008 Republican
National Convention, which is being held in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Mr. Craig has a particularly hard case to make because he signed a
guilty plea, which he now wants to withdraw — something courts rarely
allow. He claims he signed in "a state of intense anxiety," in an
attempt to keep news of the arrest from getting out. To succeed, he
will have to show that he suffered a "manifest injustice."
It is an odd claim for him to make. Mr. Craig has consistently voted
for President Bush's judicial nominees, helping the far right to fill
the federal courts with judges who are strikingly unmoved by claims of
injustice. These Bush judges are not merely legal conservatives — they
have been on a hard-driving campaign to weaken or undo protections
that are basic to the American system of justice.
The court's remarkable ruling this year in Bowles v. Russell showed
how far things have gone. An Ohio man challenged his criminal
conviction by the deadline set by a federal judge. The Supreme Court
ruled that the judge had erred by a few days — and that the man had
therefore lost his right to have his challenge heard. The four liberal
justices rightly said in dissent that "it is intolerable for the
judicial system to treat people this way."
Mr. Craig is hardly alone in deciding that he likes defendants' rights
after he became a defendant. Among law-and-order conservatives, it's
the norm. Oliver North got his Iran-contra convictions thrown out,
with the A.C.L.U.'s help, on a relative technicality. This year, an
official of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee,
James Tobin, got his conviction for jamming Democratic Party lines in
New Hampshire on Election Day reversed on a fine point about what his
It would be gratifying if conservatives who saw the legal system's
flaws up close were changed by the experience. After all, as the joke
goes, a liberal is just a conservative who has been arrested. But more
often, they carve out an exception to their tough-on-crime philosophy,
just for themselves.
Early in her career, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas was
indicted on charges of using public employees for personal and
political matters. She beat the charges, and blamed a prosecutor she
said had a partisan agenda. But when the United States attorney
scandal broke this year — with its substantial evidence of political
prosecutions — Ms. Hutchison was quick to dismiss it as "a lot of
to-do about nothing."
Mr. Craig returned to the Senate last week. One of the first votes he
cast was to support a Republican effort to block court access for
detainees, people who have not gotten to see a judge or enter a plea
The best thing that Mr. Craig has going for him may be that his case
is being heard by a Minnesota state court, not a federal one. The last
kind of judge Mr. Craig would want to appear before is one with the
harsh legal philosophy he and his Republican colleagues have been
foisting on the rest of us.
Gray Tree Crab aka "Big Bertha"
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