Stupid Is As Stupid Does

The whole point of this line was, of course, that Forrest Gump was not, in the end, stupid.  Much smarter people were, though.

An exoneration in Virginia, after a man served 27 years in prison for serial rapes he did not commit.  He’s now 46 years old.  The better part of his life was wrongly taken from him.  There’s no real remedy for that.  Give him a lot of money so he can leave the country and go live a life somewhere else, where the people who almost murdered him will have no power over him to ever do that again.  That’s about as close as you can get to a remedy.

There are heroes in this story, of course.  The exoneree himself, obviously.  Peter Neufeld and the Innocence Project, as usual.

Apparently in Virginia they can issue a “writ of innocence”.  And this brings us to what I wanted to say about all this.

The vote in the Virginia appellate court granting this writ was 6-4.  There were 4 dissents.  Lawyers should read these dissents.

They are incredibly stupid.

The common theme of the dissenters is, among other things, judicial restraint.  I like “judicial restraint” as much as the next guy.  I founded the Villanova Law School chapter of the Federalist Society.  Judicial restraint is an important element of the separation of powers, which is how branches of the government perform their vital function of “checking” each other.

Here is the problem:  the dissenters are so fundamentally confused about judicial restraint, the separation of powers and the role of the judiciary that they should resign.  Maybe they should even be disbarred for unfitness.

They may in some sense be smart people, but even by Forrest Gump standards they are stupid, to say nothing of how they should be regarded by reasonably intelligent lawyers.

A court has inherent authority to issue correct judgments.  It does not need the legislature to authorize it.  It is not something akin to the executive’s traditional power to “pardon”, and the entire discussion of “pardons” by multiple dissenters is mindless and absurd.

Neither the legislature nor the executive can so constrain a court that it must render incorrect judgments.  That idea is ridiculous, so fundamentally stupid that it’s dumbfounding to read it.  The head spins.  The mind reels.  The stomach churns.

Judicial abdication is not “judicial restraint”; it is mental sloth and judicial stupidity.  Insisting on rendering an incorrect judgment because it is thought to be required by something the executive or the legislature has imposed upon the judiciary is not respecting or observing the separation of powers; it is doing the opposite in the worst possible way, through self-abnegation.  This causes not only the destruction of the judicial branch, but also deceives the public about it, which looks at the forms  – the mottoes, the statues, the high ceilings, the inscriptions, the robes – and thinks it is still functioning.

It makes judicial life a lot easier to look at things the way the dissenters look at it, both for them and for their robed colleagues.  But that is hardly the objective.

Or maybe for some people it is.  Maybe they look at their own ease and comfort, balance it against an innocent man’s 27 year long nightmare, and come firmly down on the side of their own ease and comfort.

That’s not just stupid.  That is a whole lot worse than stupid.

(h/t Radley Balko)




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Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

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