Letters

Readers discuss "the shame Antonin Scalia has brought to the U.S. judicial system," and former Sen. Gary Hart's unheeded warnings to the Bush administration prior to 9/11.


Salon Staff
April 6, 2004 6:27AM (UTC)

[Read "Antonin Scalia, Self-Made Martyr," by Tim Grieve.]

Having served as a clerk for a federal district court judge, and having had the enormous pleasure of working for one of Scalia's former clerks early in my career, I used to have some respect for Scalia's keen intellect and strong commitment to his legal theories, even though I disagreed with his literalist interpretation of the Constitution. Lately, however, Scalia has descended into an appalling hubris that has changed my opinion of him dramatically.

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The general standard applicable to federal judges is that they should avoid even the "appearance of impropriety" and recuse if the judge's impartiality might "reasonably be questioned." Put simply, it doesn't matter if any actual unethical conduct occurred. It is enough that the judge permitted himself to be in a position where his impartiality might be impunged. Scalia's going on a duck-hunting trip with an administration official who is appearing before the high court in any capacity raises the appearance of impropriety. Scalia knows that, just as surely as any law student taking an ethics course knows it.

I'm willing to give Scalia the benefit of the doubt that he and Cheney probably never discussed the case. But that isn't the point. The rule doesn't limit itself to actual impropriety, because it is about more than whether Scalia compromised himself. It's about whether his cozying up to Cheney compromised the Supreme Court's noble position as an impartial body in the judicial branch.

That's the reason we ask every judge in the system to be Caesar's wife, above reproach. Most federal judges perform that ethical duty admirably, and consider it an honor to do so. The judge I proudly served certainly did.

That's why Scalia's lengthy memo regarding his refusal to recuse himself so disgusts me. His belligerent defense of a position that blatantly runs counter to the spirit and letter of the judicial ethics code is the arrogant ranting of a man who has lost perspective on the nature of the office he holds and the justice system he serves. It is a poor excuse made by a man who apparently thinks that he is too good to play by the rules that everyone else does. It is an insult to every judge who has ever worn a robe, and a poor example to every young lawyer who aspires to the bench.

I hope the duck hunting was worth the shame he has brought to the U.S. judicial system.

-- Liz Georges

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Scalia's "intolerance, vitriol and questionable ethics" are exactly the reasons why he is still a strong candidate to be chief justice of the United States.

GOP leadership as it stands now reserves its greatest rewards for those who are the most uncompromising in their hatred for progressive values and ideals, and Scalia's questionable ethics have assured him the undying gratitude of the most powerful people in politics. Forget the Cheney recusal memo -- Scalia's vote in Bush vs. Gore proves he will abandon his own long-held legal opinions in the name of political expediency, a far more serious ethical breach for a judge.

Here is the chain of events that I foresee: Rehnquist will retire at the end of this term, citing poor health, and O'Connor will be named for his seat. The very middle-of-the-road credentials that drive Scalia crazy make her confirmation a cakewalk, and the Bush administration gets the historical moment of naming the first female chief justice right before the election.

O'Connor serves a prearranged limited period of time, perhaps even shorter than one full term, and then steps down because of her own health concerns. By that time, assuming the Republicans have held on to control of the Senate in the 2004 elections, Scalia is put forward to replace her, and his nomination is rammed through using all the nasty tactics at the command of the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee.

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Far from being a martyr, Scalia is doing exactly what he needs to do to reach the top of his profession under the current political circumstances. So when people start assuming that Scalia is down for the count, it sounds too much like wishful thinking to me.

-- Leslie Sterling

[Read "Condi Rice's Other Wake-up Call," by David Talbot.]

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I have often wondered why the 9/11 Commission has not called Hart and Rudman to testify. I think their experience puts to rest any lingering doubts about where the Bush administration's heads were regarding this subject. I think it is very damning and adds tremendous credibility to Richard Clarke's claims.

-- Don Sitarz

While Gary Hart's interview comments were both illuminating and shocking in their revelation that the White House ignored warnings of imminent terrorist attacks, my question is: Why?

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Why did Dick Cheney, et al., ignore intelligence warnings of imminent terrorist attacks until after 9/11? I believe the crux of the 9/11 debacle is contained in the answer to that question.

-- Jeff Williams

Nice story. Why isn't the Times or Washington Post doing interviews like this one with Gary Hart? It's pretty damning stuff.

Oh yeah, that's why.

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-- Don Olsen


Salon Staff

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