Monday, July 11, 2005

Sensenbrenner: Says One Thing, Does Another

In the previous blog, Jay cited Jim Sensenbrenner's inexcusable behavior regarding a federal appellate court decision. (Sensenbrenner actually wrote to the chief judge and tried to get the court to change its decision because it didn't meet with his approval.)

We think Jim was out of line and completely wrong to do what he did. Well, guess what? He agrees with us on this one!

In a speech delivered at Stanford University on May 9, 2005, Rep. Sensenbrenner spoke about his committee's investigation into whether the federal judiciary should have an inspector general to ferret out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This is worrisome because of separation of powers issues, although Sensenbrenner doesn't see it that way. But note the passages I've highlighted:
I do not believe that creating an IG for the Judiciary will violate the separation-of-powers doctrine that promotes the independence of the three branches of government. Each of the branches are independent and have a job to do. The Judiciary isn’t supposed to write law and the Congress cannot determine how a court will rule. But the branches are interdependent entities as well. As such, congressional fulfillment of its constitutional oversight responsibility of the Judiciary does not threaten judicial independence....

Now, it is one thing for Congress to monitor how the courts are set up; it is quite another thing to tell them how they must author opinions. Which brings us to the issue de jour of congressional-judicial relations....

Like other Members of Congress, I was not enthralled with the outcome of the Schiavo case in Florida. I was closely involved in the Schiavo case where Congress and the President went to extraordinary effort to ensure Terri Schiavo’s civil rights were protected. My biggest beef with the Federal Judiciary’s handling of the case involves the Federal Judiciary not accepting jurisdiction when Congress and the President enacted a law giving it to them. The new, full, and fresh review of the case’s merits did not occur as required by the law.

While I vociferously disagree with the Federal Judiciary’s handling of this case, that does not mean that Congress should respond by attempting to neuter the courts, that is, by preventing them from doing what they have done for 200 years: interpret the law.
So why did Jim write that letter if he believes Congress shouldn't interfere with judicial decisions? Did he change his mind between May and June? Did he forget what he said then? Does he just not know what he's doing these days? You be the judge.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Tale Of Two Cities(' Newspapers)

It's true that I write an awful lot about F. Jim Sensenbrenner. Is he my congressman? No, thank goodness. The FBI would probably be living at my house, especially if I made a habit of going to his town hall meetings.

But this is also another in my continuing series on why the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sucks. Give a news organization a monopoply, and this is what you end up with, folks: anemic reporting, and cluelessness in the editorial boardroom.

Check out today's front-page story by Craig Gilbert:
Iron will brings perils, payoffs for Sensenbrenner
He defends leadership style by showing results

When Jim Sensenbrenner is making news, it often means one thing. Somebody is ticked off. Sometimes it's him. Sometimes it's the Democrats. Sometimes it's his own side. But to the powerful House Judiciary Committee chairman, that isn't all bad.

"It is very hard to make a difference and actually change things if you have a reputation of 'going along to get along' for everything," said the Wisconsin Republican in a long interview about his event-filled chairmanship.

"People who cave too early simply because they like to see more 'smiles' end up failing at actually making the changes I think everybody who runs for office wants to accomplish," Sensenbrenner said.
And so begins a relatively flattering piece on F. Jim. Really--I read the whole thing looking for the promised "perils." Seems the only "peril" is that he makes people mad. The story even includes a number of Democrats who must have been lined up at Craig Gilbert's door to praise the pompous jerk. "Oooooh, he's so even-handed," they say. "Aaaaah, he's so good at what he does."


Compare, now, the front page story in this morning's Chicago Tribune*:
Lawmaker prods court, raises brows
Demands longer term in Chicago drug case

In an extraordinary move, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee privately demanded last month that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn't believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong. [. . .]

[Jay] Apperson, who is chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties.

Further, the letter may be an intrusion on the Constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine, or, at least, the latest encroachment by Congress upon the judiciary, analysts said.

David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and an expert on federal sentencing law, said, "I think it's completely inappropriate for a congressman to send a letter to a court telling them to change a ruling."

However, Stanley Brand, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former House counsel, said: "I don't think it's appropriate, but I don't know if it rises to the level of an ethical violation. It's unseemly. It's not something members ought to do, but they do it. . . . The context is troubling."
The story goes on for three web pages, providing solid reporting and thoughtful and varied analysis--as opposed to Gilbert's puff piece. The Trib notes that the appeals court issued a revised ruling specifically to explain why F. Jim was legally wrong on the issue, and how F. Jim the whined to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the matter. The Trib also provides a long and disturbing section on the context of F. Jim's interference--the long list of Republican's efforts to poke their noses in from Congress on judicial matters over the last several years.

I wonder if maybe Craig Gilbert should re-think the flattery: He notes that F. Jim gets compared to a rottweiller or pit bull. Jackal is more like it.

[* Login to the Trib: kos@dailykos, dailykos]