Tag Archives: constitutional law

The Dangerous Workings Of Sarah Palin

If you want to hear the real sound of “100% wacko,” then just listen to Sarah Palin.

In the wake of the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, many around the country blame Palin’s “incitement to violence”-style rhetoric and imagery which includes, among other techniques, use of the now-infamous “cross hairs” map that – rather literally – targets Democratic leaders.  The “cross hairs” map is pictured below:

At the time of writing this article, the “cross-hairs” map was still publicly posted on Palin’s Facebook page.  Furthermore, in response to criticism, Palin says that she (and her cronies) are being unjustly blamed for the attack; it is their right to free speech that is being trampled.

In other words – just in case you missed it – Palin is the real victim here.  It is not Congresswoman Giffords whom Palin targeted with her map and other violent-provoking rhetoric.  No way.  It is not the federal judge killed by the gunman.  Uh-uh. It is not even the 5 others that were killed in the shooting, including a 9 year-old girl who just happened to have been born on 9/11/2001.

Nope, Sister Sarah is the victim here – she, her cronies, and, well, I suppose the First Amendment.  You remember the good-ole No. 1, don’t you?  It is part of that pesky document called the Constitution that so many dangerous, half-crazed, ne0-con zealots can never seem to stomach – until it becomes useful to wrap themselves up in it for protection and justification.

Here’s a news bulletin for Sister Sarah – you can put lipstick on a pig, but in the end, you still got a pig.  And, in this case, a rather dangerous pig.  In this case, we have a pig willing to use this tragic event to transform herself into some kind of victim or martyr; or, at the very least,  Constitutional champion.  In so doing, Palin is revealing either a profound degree of psychological disturbance, or she is demonstrating her willingness to stoop deep to promote her own domination agenda.  Maybe both.

Also shocking are those that have publicly defended Palin.  For example, Barbara Walters feels Sister Sarah’s pain, saying that it is unfair to blame her for the shooting.  Although I normally regard Walters higher than most, not on this occasion.  As Lynn M. Paltrow noted in her “Open Letter to Sarah Palin,” Congresswoman Giffords – in particular – criticized Palin’s methods, including the “cross hairs” map.  What a coincidence, eh Babs?!?!

Walters is, of course, known for her own brand of “in your face” journalism.  However, as she should know, speech that promotes the public good by encouraging debate or controversy – even spirited or agitated – is not the same thing as the self-indulgent calculations of a demagogue trolling her cult of personality for violence with military-style words and imagery.  For example, evidence continues to mount suggesting that Palin’s racists comments aimed at President Obama has led to death threats against the President.

If Sarah Palin’s brand of “speech” is protected, then we ought to start now and re-write every Constitutional law textbook so that they feature the likes of Charles Manson and Jim Jones alongside Constitutional champions like Mary Beth Tinker (pictured below), Clarence Earl Gideon and Rosa Parks.  Hyperbole, you say?  Sarah Palin is nothing like Jim Jones?  How would we know that – until it is too late?

What if we suddenly learned that Sarah Palin had direct ties to a terrorist organization whose mission is to cause anarchy and civil unrest in the U.S. to destroy democracy?  What is the gunman in this case had ties to the same organization?  Suddenly, it might seem as though Palin’s comments were something less akin to pure free speech and something strikingly closer to conspiracy.

Even if Palin’s “speech” is protected, let us not dignify that which does not deserve dignity.   A lot of very undignified “speech” is legally protected by our Constitution, whether we like it or not.  That does not mean dignified citizens should go out of their way to be cheerleaders.

Mary Beth Tinker talks to students at Cardozo High about their constitutional rights. In eighth grade, Tinker was suspended for wearing a black armband, inspiring a Supreme Court case that upheld students' freedom of expression. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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California Enacts Nation’s First “Civil Gideon” Law

In 1963, the United State Supreme Court decided the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) 372 U.S. 335.  In that case, Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in a Florida state court with a felony for breaking and entering. He lacked funds and was unable to hire a lawyer to prepare his defense.  Despite being semi-literate, Gideon requested court-appointed counsel.  The following colloquy then took place:

‘The COURT: Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint Counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.
‘The DEFENDANT: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel.’

Gideon unsuccessfully defended himself, was convicted by a jury, and the court sentenced him to five years in a state prison.

In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that Gideon had a right to be represented by a court-appointed attorney, and that the trial court’s refusal to appoint counsel violated Gideon’s rights under the 6th and 14th Amendments.  In doing so, the Court overruled its 1942 decision in Betts v. Brady.  Ruling that the Sixth Amendment‘s guarantee of counsel was a fundamental right and essential to a fair trial, and that the 14th Amendment made this right obligatory on the states, the Gideon Court establish a fundamental right in the United States to be represented by an attorney in criminal proceedings.

MV5BMjE4Mjk0MzE5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjA5NjA5._V1._SX220_SY400_The Gideon v. Wainwright case was depicted in the 1980 movie, ‘Gideon’s Trumpet,’ starring Henry Fonda.  Oral argument in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright can be heard by linking to the Oyez Project.

Traditionally, the right to be represented by counsel has not extended to civil matters.  This is true even though the phrase “civil matters” broadly encompass many important types of cases; e.g., domestic violence cases, paternity cases, housing and employment discrimination, and police misconduct cases.  By enacting what has come to be known as “Civil Gideon,” California is the first state in the nation that will provide a right to representation by counsel, at least in certain types of civil cases.  On October 13, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB590 proposed by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles).

The California measure provides a pilot project for court-appointed counsel in “civil matters involving critical issues affecting basic human needs.”  Because it is a pilot project, these new rights will not necessarily be in place in all California counties.

In those participating counties, priority under California’s Civil Gideon will be:  domestic violence, civil harassment restraining orders, probate conservatorships, guardianships, elder abuse, and child custody.  Child custody cases are to be given particularly high priority, according to the statute, because of the extraordinarily high number of self-represented litigants in such cases.

For those interested, you can link to the November 2009 article in the California Bar Journal here.  I have also put a complete copy of the California statute as enacted in Box.net, so if you are interested check out the widget in the footer to obtain your copy.

Many thanks go out to my colleague, paralegal Lori J. Paul, for suggesting this topic and for assisting me today with some fast, top-notch research on this.

So what do you think?  Should those without funds to pay for an attorney in those civil cases mentioned above be afforded one by the court system?  Is the California law a civil right or civil wrong?  Does your answer depend upon how this newly created right is funded; i.e., it’s a civil right if and only if it is not funded by tax dollars?  Check out our forthcoming poll on this issue.

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