Friday, October 11, 2019

On Looking for Closure from the Criminal Justice System

A day after that horrible 2016 election I was mourning not only what was to become a national nightmare, but also the failure of California's Prop 62, which would have abolished the death penalty. I was on the radio talking about it and someone asked me what I would say to the victims' families. I replied, "first of all, all the sympathy and empathy in the world. And second, if you have lost someone you love, surely you wouldn't want to revisit this suffering--with a real risk that the person is innocent--on anyone else's family."

Some people took offense to that, and I got some hate mail, including a fairly alarming death threat. But I still do feel that the notion that not everyone who has lost a loved one to homicide looks for closure in the form of the death penalty or other severe sentence bears repeating.

I'm writing about this as the verdict has come out in a case involving the murder of my colleague and friend Dan Markel. Sigfredo Garcia was found guilty; there's a hung jury in Katherine Magbanua's case; and the people many of us think are the real culprits, the Adelsons, have so far completely escaped the clutches of the criminal justice system.

Susan Bandes has a a few papers about the notion of "closure", as something that the criminal justice system is supposed to deliver and as something people assume they'll get out of a conviction and a sentence. Her findings dovetail with what I found when working on the Kavanaugh piece and on the Progressive Punitivism piece: the idea that expressing anger through the criminal justice system will bring some form of cathartic relief is unsupported by behavioral science. In working on Yesterday's Monsters, one of the things that most filled me with sorrow was how victims who are singlemindedly invested in punitive outcomes against those who killed their loved ones (and the Tate family literally wrote the book on this--it's called Restless Souls) find so little solace in doing so.

I don't think that nonretributive, nonpunitive victims are more "saintly" than punitive ones. All emotions, including rancor AND forgiveness, are part of the human experience (as we recently found out, if anything, people find it hard to accept that forgiveness is human, and insist on shining some critical light on it).

Dan, who studied retributive justice (here, here, and here), would have found it interesting that what I most wanted from the criminal justice system was an affirmation of the narrative of What Happened. I'm not at all invested in the Adelsons being  arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated, let alone executed--that they have to live with themselves strikes me as the worst possible punishment. Not because I'm some sort of saintly, forgiving creature--I simply found out something about myself and what I want from the criminal justice system. And even if we, Dan's family and friends, ever get it, it won't bring our friend back.

Perhaps one of the things that most saddens me in America's punitive victim rights movement is how it offers you the One and Only Way to be an appropriate victim, without allowing you to sit with your own fresh emotions and feelings--grief? anger? frustration? loss?--and process them with yourself, between you and your soul, without a giant machine of a social narrative to run you over. There's not nearly enough quiet, be it in the right-wing halls of the anti-superpredator chorus or in the left-wing halls of #metoo, for you to sit with yourself and be whoever you are with your own feelings.

Much love and support to Dan's family and friends today. What is remembered, lives.

Counseling Criminal Clients on Immigration: A Tall Order

In 2010, the Supreme Court decided Padilla v. Kentucky. Padilla, a long-time legal permanent resident of the United States and a Vietnam veteran, was caught with drugs in Kentucky. His lawyer advised him to take a plea deal and told him not to worry about the immigration consequences of the conviction because "he's been in the country for so long." Lo and behold, the conviction triggered immigration consequences and Padilla was subject to mandatory deportation.

In a surprising departure from its usual approach to the ineffective assistance of counsel doctrine, the Court found that the defense attorney provided advice that fell beneath the minimum professional requirements and also prejudiced the client, thus failing the test from Strickland v. Washington. Justice Stevens' opinion explains that immigration consequences of criminal conviction ("collateral" consequences) are often much more serious than the punishment meted out by the criminal justice system. In his words:
We have long recognized that deportation is a particularly severe “penalty”; but it is not, in a strict sense, a criminal sanction. Although removal proceedings are civil in nature. . . deportation is nevertheless intimately related to the criminal process. Our law has enmeshed criminal convictions and the penalty of deportation for nearly a century. . . And, importantly, recent changes in our immigration law have made removal nearly an automatic result for a broad class of noncitizen offenders. Thus, we find it “most difficult” to divorce the penalty from the conviction in the deportation context. . . . Moreover, we are quite confident that noncitizen defendants facing a risk of deportation for a particular offense find it even more difficult.  
Deportation as a consequence of a criminal conviction is, because of its close connection to the criminal process, uniquely difficult to classify as either a direct or a collateral consequence. The collateral versus direct distinction is thus ill-suited to evaluating a Strickland claim concerning the specific risk of deportation. We conclude that advice regarding deportation is not categorically removed from the ambit of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Strickland applies to Padilla’s claim.
All of which is true: deportation is, indeed, a life-altering penalty, and clients must absolutely take it into account when crafting their trial strategy. But where does this leave defense attorneys, who have had to learn an entire new field of law, rife with hypertechnical distinctions, arcane definitions, and jurisdictional messiness?

For the uninitiated, I'll just say that the terms used by the INA and other immigration legislation do not mean what defense attorneys would be justified in thinking they mean. A "conviction" under the INA is not necessarily a conviction under state law. An "aggravated felony" under the INA need not be aggravated, nor a felony. "Drug crimes", "domestic violence", "firearm", mean very different things in the immigration context than they do under state law. And don't even get me started on crimes of moral turpitude, the meaning of which is so vague and fluid that immigration courts still refer to a legal dictionary from 1914. Unconvinced? How about a Jamaican citizen and legal permanent US resident busted for having 1.3 oz of marijuana facing deportation and having to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to clarify whether this counts as an "aggravated felony"? Nor weird enough for you? Then why should it take a certiorary to the Supreme Court to save from deportation a mathematics professor--Green Card holder from Tunisia--caught with a sock containing four orange pills, who got nailed under Kansas law not for the pills, but for possession of the sock?

The point I'm trying to make is not that U.S. immigration law is nuts (that should be obvious), but rather that, in 2010, expecting garden variety defense attorneys to master all this, complete with all the contradictions and differences, was a tall order. Many people in the civil rights community (me included) hailed Padilla for finally drawing attention to the horror that collateral consequences can bring onto a person's life. But what if Padilla completely backfired, and what we've created is an invitation to confusion at best and malpractice at worst?

Consider this: None of the criminal procedure bail-to-jail courses I am familiar with, including mine (this is going to change as of the next time I teach it), includes a crimmigration unit. Not all law schools even offer a crimmigration class, and of course if they do it's not mandatory. The bar doesn't test on immigration and certainly not on crimmigration. I did an informal poll among my former students who practice as defense attorneys. Those who work at public defender offices are lucky in that good, conscientious outfits have prioritized hiring immigration experts (this does not dispense with the Padilla requirement, because presumably the ethical responsibility is still the public defender's, but at least it offers the clients correct advice.) Those who work as private attorneys, or in smaller outfits such as alternate public defender offices in rural places, are left completely in the lurch. They rely on charts and lists such as this one, or they'll refer the clients to immigration attorneys, but that means that people who are already in dire financial straits incur even more costs. At least one person admitted to me that they pass on cases with immigration consequences because they fear ethical violations and don't want to do a bad job, and while this reluctance is understandable, one wonders where that leaves clients with immigration issues (who are already among the weakest, most disenfranchised folks in the system) collectively. More commonly (and also disturbing)--my former students admitted their immense discomfort when counseling people not to take good deals, or to go to trial with a very flimsy chance of success, or to take ridiculous deals that are immigration workarounds. They were (understandably) confused about whether advising their client about the least of all evils--taking a suboptimal criminal justice strategy to save them immigrationwise--was ethically clean, even when realistically sound. They also expressed frustration when dealing with ill-informed (at best) or callous (at worst) prosecutors who chide them for asking for something "special" or "preferable" for a client in risk of deportation.

In other words: This is not good.

I have a few thoughts about this. The first is that a solid empirical study of Padilla's impact on criminal practice is absolutely essential. This would require a survey of a large group of defense attorneys about how Padilla altered their criminal practice, as well as in-depth interviews with examples. This stuff will have to be triangulated with what we know about criminal representation, to check whether the additional burdens on defense attorneys have resulted in worse access to justice for noncitizen defendants.

The second is that all of us who teach criminal procedure in law schools--I'm going to start this and my chartacourse electronic casebook is available for you to use--have got to revise our curriculum to include a basic crimmigration unit. I'm thinking something between 6-8 hours covering the categorical approach, aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, some more specific removal categories, and basic situations in which one's client might interface with the immigration system. In addition, of course, specialty crimmigraiton courses must be offered in every law school that purports to certify ethical defense attorneys for practice. The bar exam, for all its imperfections, can add immigration law to the list of covered subjects, and this would be relatively easy to do in the MBE because it's federal law.

This is not a perfect solution, given that immigration law changes frequently and is subject to administrative whims (even when not dealing with someone as unhinged as the current occupant of the White House). Because of that, my third thought is that, in offering and taking CLEs, priority must be given to crimmigration updates. If and when we establish a defense bar, crimmigration proficiency has to be prioritized.

Same deal, by the way, for prosecutors: Larry Krasner's initiative in forming an immigration unit at the D.A.'s office is an essential tool for any prosecutorial outfit that purports to give people what they deserve, rather than indirectly bring about grossly disproportionate punishment. Immigration is not an externality: it is part and parcel of the person's fate, and has to be treated as such by the D.A.'s office.

If you are a defense attorney and have encountered immigration issues in your criminal practice, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Friday, October 4, 2019

More Progressive Punitivism: And Today We, the Woke, Will Tell You How to Grieve Your Brother

If you're anything like me, you might have spared a moment or two from focusing on the impeachment brouhaha to follow the horrific tragedy involving Amber Guyger, the white woman who shot her African American neighbor, Botham Jean, arguing that she mistook his flat for her own. And if you're anything like me, you were probably surprised, and perhaps moved, to read about Jean's brother, Brandt, who after Guyger's conviction and sentence hugged her and expressed forgiveness.

And if you've spent any time online in the last day or two, you've seen that everyone whose brother was not murdered recently had Opinions about this. As NPR explained, it "sparked a debate."

I'm in a rush to get a little bit more work done, so I'll keep this short: There has been a lot of chatter from well-meaning, righteous folks, using all the correct Woke argot, about things we've already read in op-eds a thousand times: how forgiveness and restorative justice just give white people a reprieve because they reinforce racial hierarchies and excuse structural inequality yada yada yada. This sort of chatter, right here, is what I argue in both Yesterday's Monsters and in Progressive Punitivism has been the ultimate paradigm in American criminal justice policy. It doesn't matter if you're a fierce punitive right winger or a fierce punitive progressive social justice crusader--you've spent decades marinating in a national animus that tells you that everything that is wrong in the world is criminal justice related and that harsh punishment is the only solution. 

It is important to listen to victims. Very. It is important to have all the compassion in the world for victims. And at the same time, first and foremost, our obligation to victims is to help them not be just "victims" as soon as possible. What we are doing with the reification of this punitive perspective is reinforcing the notion that the only appropriate way to deal with social ills is to punish; that to forgive is weak and subservient; and that people should never move on from their own victimization--even if it's healing TO THEM, even if it helps THEM, even if it is THEIR way of dealing with grief.

Which means that we're all about listening to victims--but only if they sing the punitive tune we like to hear.

I would humbly suggest to all the self appointed social justice critics of Jean's big heart that perhaps there isn't only One Right Way to handle the murder of your sibling, and that perhaps the decent thing to do is to let people grieve and process in whatever way seems appropriate to them. 

I would also suggest that critiquing someone's admittedly uncommon way of handling his grief as if he doesn't know what he's doing is as paternalistic as the hierarchies the commentators supposedly condemn. 


Thursday, October 3, 2019

"What About Arab-on-Arab Crime?" Minority Intraracial Violence and How the Left and the Right Both Get It Wrong



As I type this, thousands of Israeli Arab citizens, residents of Magd-al-Crum (an Arab town in the Upper Galilee) are protesting against the Israeli government's failure to appropriately address violence in Israeli Arab society. Ha'aretz reports:
The day before yesterday two brothers were fatally shot at the town in a browl, and today another young man who was badly injured in the fight, Muhammad Saba, died of his injuries. The protesters are calling out derogatory calls about the police and its crime-fighting abilities, including, "Ardan [the police minister], you're a coward", and bearing signs saying, "violence--not in our streets" and "living in peace is already a dream." Muhammad Baraka, the Chairman of the Supervision Committee for the Arab Population, said at the end of the march that, "if in Magd-al-Crum and [other] Arab towns there won't be peace--there won't be peace anywhere. It is not a threat, it is an elementary right for any citizen in a proper society. 
Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 Arab Israeli citizens were murdered throughout the country. Among the marchers were thousands of villagers, as well as citizens from all over the country, mayors, Knesset members and religious leaders. Prominent at the rally were women, who wore black shirts for mourning, called out slogans and marched with their children who carried signs against violence. Even the family members of the two brothers who were murdered in the village, Halil and Ahmed Man'aa, attended the protest.
Homicide victims per 100,000, by religion, 2014-2016 (non-
Jews in red).
The protesters in Magd-al-Crum are not taking a single incident out of proportion--they are responding to a devastating statistical reality. According to a new report from the Knesset's Center for Research and Information, Israeli Arab citizens are disproportionately represented among homicide victims. Because homicide (like most violent crime) is primarily committed intraracially (this is true in the U.S. as well as in Israel), what this means is that homicide perpetrators are also primarily Arab Israelis.
התפלגות הנאשמים בעבירות רצח לפי דת בין השנים 2014-2016 (מערכת וואלה! NEWS , -)
Homicide defendants by religion, 2014-2016 (non-Jews in red).


The graphs from the report prove the point. Arab Israelis, who constitute about 20% of the Israeli population, are responsible for more than 50% of homicide offenses per annum. This is not the fabricated, misleading product of overenforcement or targeting by Israeli police (many other things are, and we'll get to it in a moment): it reflects actual bodies on the ground--dead people and the people who shoot them.

Just recently, after the Joint List of Arab parties won a record number of seats in the Knesset. After this electoral triumph, the party leader Ayman Odeh published a wonderful editorial in the New York Times--a testament to his very real qualities of leadership. Many commentators reflected on his blend of idealism and pragmatism and on his willingness to support Gantz as Prime Minister (against Netanyahu) but reluctance to join the government. But as a criminologist, I was more drawn to his important and knowledgeable commentary on the problems that really plague the Israeli Arab population:
Our demands for a shared, more equal future are clear: We seek resources to address violent crime plaguing Arab cities and towns, housing and planning laws that afford people in Arab municipalities the same rights as their Jewish neighbors and greater access for people in Arab municipalities to hospitals. We demand raising pensions for all in Israel so that our elders can live with dignity, and creating and funding a plan to prevent violence against women. 
We seek the legal incorporation of unrecognized — mostly Palestinian Arab — villages and towns that don’t have access to electricity or water. And we insist on resuming direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace treaty that ends the occupation and establishes an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders. We call for repealing the nation-state law that declared me, my family and one-fifth of the population to be second-class citizens. It is because over the decades candidates for prime minister have refused to support an agenda for equality that no Arab or Arab-Jewish party has recommended a prime minister since 1992.
What might these resources include? I worry that the facile right-wing and left-wing solutions to Arab-Israeli violence are equally doomed to fail. Let's start with the left wing. About a year ago I sat in a hotel lobby at the ASC annual meeting and talked to a respected and experienced Israeli criminologist, who told me of his Israeli colleagues' reluctance to openly discuss Arab crime rates. It's bad form among left-wing intellectuals to admit that a population that suffers (truly) from overpolicing, overcriminalization, and harsh sentencing, might also be responsible for actual crime on the ground.

This, of course, reminded me of James Forman's Locking Up Our Own. One of the great strengths of the book is that, by contrast to Michelle Alexander and others to whom racial discrimination seemd to be wholly a product of racist policing, racial profiling, and the war on drugs (note that even Michelle Alexander eventually came around to rejecting this facile explanation, albeit without admitting her own errors), Forman's protagonists, black politicians and police chiefs, sought what they thought in good faith to be the best for their communities. Why would Burtell Jefferson embrace stop and frisk? Why would black politicians embrace marijuana enforcement and lax gun laws? Because they were attentive to a community that was really--not just in the putrid minds of white supremacists--ravaged with violence. Perpetrated against black people by black people.

What is often lost in the chatter of those who deem the question "what about black-on-black crime?" racist is the deep understanding that the vast majority of the African American population does NOT commit crime, and that these politicians and cops were operating on behalf of their communities, rather than against them. It could even be argued that this oversight, in itself, is a form of racism. But I see this evasion, the fudging of this truth, everywhere. As a shining example of this, take a look at the NAP commission report on the causes of mass incarceration and how it talks about race and violent crimes:


Note: the relative involvement of blacks in these crimes has "declined significantly". But what about the graph right below this paragraph, which gives you the plain statistics? In the 2000s, when these rates have decreased, black perpetrators are responsible for "only" 50% of the homicides. African Americans constitute about 12% of the population. So, they are overrepresented in the homicide perpetrator population by a factor of four times their percentage in society. Note how my colleagues conveniently avoid mentioning this simple fact, which is literally staring them in the face. Do the numbers for the other violent crimes: also, considerable overrepresentation. And keep in mind that, by contrast to drug offenses (for which we know the official statistics represent differential enforcement, as we know that using and dealing statistics are more or less equal for blacks and whites), for violent crimes official statistics are a far better representation of actual crime commission rates. 

Why are my American colleagues not talking about this? For the same reason that my Israeli colleagues don't openly talk about Arab-Israeli crime rates. Because to admit the statistical truth that these groups are overrepresented in the violent crime picture is tantamount to appearing as a racist to your colleagues and friends. Many lefties, both in the academic and in the activist milieus, think that talking about crime rates is tantamount to repeating the racist sayings of the Nixon and Reagan eras about "hoodlums" or "superpredators" or to subscribe to some kind of Lombrosian thinking that "this is how these people are." Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is not a shred of evidence, from the natural OR social sciences, that shows that any racial group is predetermined to commit more crime. 

The answer is much more simple. It's become fashionable among some of my colleagues (I see this a lot in the books that came out in the last few years) to criticize liberals and democrats for their contributions to "building prison America" and for their paternalistic assumptions about inner-city black life and the black family. But the bottom line is that, study after study of these supposedly paternalistic, well-meaning white criminologists, has shown that criminality and criminalization basically come from the same place: systematic racism. The same forces that lead entire police departments to structure their stop-and-frisk practices to target African American drivers and pedestrians also account for the poverty, neglect, and lack of legitimate opportunities that produce real violent crime. When people have been oppressed, neglected, dehumanized, relegated to second-class-citizen status for generations, is it any wonder that, in the absence of legitimate opportunities they turn to nonlegitimate ones? And what would be racist or paternalistic about admitting this?

Which is where we come to the other side of the political map. What Forman convincingly argues in Locking Up Our Own is that, faced with the real problems of their community, the policymakers and actors he examined grabbed the only tool available to them: criminal justice and law enforcement. Our recurrence to criminal justice comes, argues Forman, from a lack of imagination: we only have a criminal justice hammer in hand, and therefore everything looks like a nail. Law-and-order types, the likes of which are easy to find in both the Israeli and American governments, are likely to jump on the opportunity to police Arab society (or African-American urban streets, which our caselaw tellingly refers to as "high-crime areas") more aggressively. The outcome of these methods can only be destructive--as it has been, to the detriment to all of us, in the United States. 

The truth is that Arab villages and American inner cities do not suffer exclusively from overenforcement or from underenforcement: they suffer from a poisonous, unhealthy combination of the worst of both. Politicized law enforcement, infused with racist stereotypes, will resort to doing less real policing (actually investigating and effectively preventing serious, violent crime) and more harassment and humiliation of people in the streets over minutia. The outcome is that everyone suffers--today you are the repeated victim of humiliating stop-and-frisk and demeaning encounters with a police officer, and tomorrow you're at risk of being the innocent victim of a stray bullet. 

Similar things are true for Arab towns and villages. For decades, Arab cities and towns have been shamefully neglected compared with their Jewish counterparts. People don't have basic infrastructure--I'm talking electricity and water services. Arab schools are in shambles in terms of the infrastructure. Workplace and education discrimination are rampant and ugly. With this package of systemic discrimination comes both underenforcement (Arab lives are seen as less worthwhile and thus less efforts are expended to protect them) and overenforcement (every one of my Arab friends can tell you stories of police abuse that will make you shudder.) Is it any wonder that both crime AND criminalization are serious problems, at the same time? And is it a huge theoretical overreach that both come from the same poisoned well of systemic discrimination? How is throwing more police officers to do more humiliating things going to help the crime rates? How can we ever achieve real change with just law enforcement and no real investment in the enormous socioeconomic gaps that birth crime and discrimination in the first place?

Ayman Odeh strikes me as an extremely thoughtful, visionary leader. I hope he can leverage these qualities to deeply comprehend the conflation of two deep truths: that violent crime in Arab society is a real problem, and that more aggressive law enforcement is a terrible solution. And I hope that some of us, in academia and in policymaking, can come to the same conclusions about American crime and law enforcement. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Which Juveniles May Be Tried As Adults? CA Supreme Court to Decide

A legislative clash regarding the prosecution of juveniles in adult courts has reached the California Supreme Court. Bob Egelko of the Chron reports:

At issue is whether youths under 16 must be tried in juvenile court, where the maximum sentence is until age 25, or can be sent to adult court and face lengthy prison sentences, including life terms for murder. 
A 2000 ballot measure allowed California prosecutors on their own to charge 14-year-olds as adults for serious crimes. Proposition 57, a state constitutional amendment passed by the voters in November 2016, required prosecutors to request such transfers from a juvenile court judge, who would consider the youth’s history and potential for rehabilitation and the nature of the charges before deciding whether to send the case to adult court. 
The new law, SB1391, passed by the Legislature last year and in effect since January, prohibits adult court prosecution for anyone younger than 16. Prosecutors have challenged the law, arguing that it conflicts with Prop. 57, but four appellate courts had upheld the law before Monday.
To put things in context: Both SB1391 and Prop. 57 aimed to do the same thing - scale back the ridiculous appetite for prosecuting juveniles in adult courts. To put things into perspective, this is a backlash against the "direct filing" policy enacted in 2000, under which the decision to prosecute a juvenile as an adult lay exclusively with prosecutors. Keep in mind that this was five years before the Supreme Court decided Roper v. Simmons, in which they relied on neuroscience and developmental psychology to "rediscover" what we forgot throughout the 1980s and 1990s: children are different than adults, and the prefrontal cortex, which allows for delayed gratification, consideration of consequences, and empathy, continues to grow and develop well into a person's twenties. As we are reeling from the characterization of children as "superpredators" or "sociopaths", especially in the racialized context of the crackdown on crack, we are trying to fix things.

The problem is that these two laudable propositions are trying to do things that could be interpreted as at odds with each other. Under Prop 57, the discretion in trying juveniles as adults shifted from prosecutors to judges; under SB1391, juveniles under 16 cannot be tried in adult courts at all. Prosecutors, who are losing ground under both propositions, argue that SB1391 prevents them from presenting the case of, say, a 15-year-old boy at a hearing to determine where to try him.

My hope is that the Supreme Court will rule that these propositions are not actually at odds with each other. SB1391 sets a firm limit of 16 for adult courts; within this firm limit, juveniles--people aged 16 and 17--go through a hearing to determine whether they should be tried as adults. In that sense there is no contradiction. If the Court does find a contradiction, I hope they will resolve it in a similar fashion.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Distress Call: Suicide Rates in California Prisons

A couple of years ago, Michael Bien alerted us at his keynote speech at WSC to an alarming trend: mental illness was on the rise in CA prisons even as they were getting decrowded. He and his lawyers ran the numbers lots of possible ways, and couldn't find a comprehensive explanation.

And now, we have some distressing data about the suicide rates in CA prisons. The Chron reports:

Last year, an average of three California inmates killed themselves each month in state cells — 34 total suicides in a system with 129,000 inmates. That amounts to an annual rate of 26.3 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest rate in California since at least 2006. 
That figure is higher than the national average for state prisons (20 per 100,000 in 2014) and federal prisons (14.7 in 2018, according to the Washington Post). From 2001 to 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, twice as many people killed themselves in California cells than in the entire federal system, which contains more prisons and inmates. There were 448 total suicides in California prisons during that period and 222 in federal prisons. 
The inmate suicide rate has now increased for four straight years in California, and it may rise again in 2019. According to the state, 16 inmates committed suicide during the first six months of this year. Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill prisoners, said he knows of 10 more inmate suicides since then, for a total of 26 so far in 2019. A state spokeswoman said she couldn’t confirm the 10 recent deaths because “some investigations are still ongoing.”

Read the article in its entirety: it exposes a disturbing pattern of neglect and cover-your-asses mentality and the futility of the ongoing Coleman litigation. What is wrong? and how can we fix it?

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

Theodore R. Davis' illustration of Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial in the Senate, published in Harper's Weekly.
Much has been made in the last couple of days of Nixon and Clinton comparisons to, ahem, the current brouhaha. But as I was prepping this slideshow for a virtual talk at Manny's, I was struck by the surprising similarities between our, ahem, situation, and the context of Andrew Jackson's impeachment in 1868. A quick read of this lucid and helpful Wikipedia article will bring you up to speed. It's a rather obscure chapter in American history; as early as 1896, Edmund Ross commented that "little is now known to the public" about it. After Ross's book, three more books were written about the impeachment trial: David Miller DeWitt's in 1903, Michael Les Benedict's in 1999, and David Stewart's in 2010. What is palpable in all of them (perhaps most so in Stewart's book) is the context: a bitter, partisan, no-holds-barred fight between Lincoln's successor, a moderate Southern Republican seeking reconciliation with the South, and Congress, which sought more sanctions against Southern States during Reconstruction.

Johnson's unbridled anger at Congress will remind you of someone we know: He actively campaigned against Congress, which included a massive speaking tour to "fight traitors in the North." This campaign backfired spectacularly when the election yielded two Republican houses determined to thwart his agenda, and when he tried to get rid of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War he inherited from Lincoln and a staunch Unionist. Congress tried to thwart these efforts by passing the Tenure of Office Act, and Johnson, determined to get rid of Stanton, did so nonetheless. Nine of the eleven articles of impeachment revolved around this effort.

Through the prism of 2019, I can't help but read this story as that of a small man with no hope of filling the giant shoes of his predecessor, conciliatory and sympathetic to a grim racist heritage, determined to spite anyone placing limitations on his power to appoint and discard people as he chose. It might cheer you up (or not) to learn that the Senate came one vote short of removing him from office. It might also be useful to keep in mind that the failure to secure the additional vote came from four Republicans voting against their own party out of concerns that the evidence presented against Jackson was one-sided--and a good reminder that, in order to garner legitimacy for the impeachment process, it is important to conduct a thorough and objective investigation that might assuage the concerns that some of today's hesitant Republicans about "witch hunts" and "kangaroo courts." If Democrats want to secure removal in the senate, which for obvious reasons will be an uphill battle, the process has to be fair and also to be perceived as fair.