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Bush's Frankenstein judges 

Court nominees would be funny -- if liberty wasn't at stake

Across the Straits of Florida, on the tropical island of Cuba, there are some peculiar ideas about "justice." Terrorism is broadly defined -- from horrible acts of violence against civilians to simple dissent against the government. Often the latter is much more feared by the regime than the former.

Trials, such as they are, don't resemble a Perry Mason courtroom. Judges, prosecutors and most defense attorneys work for the government, and they eschew jurists' robes and barristers' suits in favor of martial uniforms.

If a military defense attorney does too good a job, his career hits the wall. If a civilian lawyer truly has a client's interest at heart, he could find himself in violation of secrecy and terrorism laws. Any disclosures by defendants to their attorneys must be relayed to the government -- or the lawyers may face terrorism charges.

There is no jury. Instead, a panel of military officers -- who are keenly aware that if they offend el jefe, they're history -- decides guilt or ... well, it's not likely anyone will ever be found innocent.

The death penalty is administered quickly, with little review. Proceedings of the secretive tribunals -- even identities of its victims -- are deeply buried in government vaults.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention. I'm not talking about Fidel Castro's Cuba. My attention is on George Bush's concentration camp at Guantanamo, where a death chamber is scheduled to be built and military tribunals will likely begin trials that would make the Founding Father gag with outrage.

For, you see, according to the Bush regime, the U.S. Constitution doesn't mean squat. The scariest example is what's planned for Gitmo, where, Bush claims, the rule of constitutional law doesn't apply. But ranking up there in the fright department are the Patriot and Son of Patriot laws -- which could make dissent, especially civil disobedience, "terrorist" acts. Being agin' Bush could get you stripped of your citizenship and sent to America's emerging gulag.

Unrestrained by the Bill of Rights' Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments, Bush has devised a legal system patterned after the worst of what goes on in a totalitarian society. Heck, Fidel is probably taking notes on how to "improve" his own chambers of horror.

If the idea of a police state makes you mad, here's a name that should evoke furious anger: William Pryor, who wants to be the type of federal judge Bush needs to turn America into an Orwellian nightmare.

But, before we delve into Pryor, let's do a 50-year flashback. At 8 p.m. on June 19, a macabre anniversary clicked past. Shortly after that moment in 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to the electric chair at New York's Sing Sing.

Later disclosures, including the admission of perjury by one key witness, would tend to clear Ethel. Julius, while likely an atomic spy, was not guilty of the magnitude of the crimes attributed to him by trial Judge Irving Kaufman. For a start, there was no single secret for the A-bomb, as Kaufman claimed during sentencing.

More important, Kaufman blamed the Rosenbergs for 50,000 deaths in the Korean War. That claim seems ludicrous, and was. But in the McCarthy era witch hunts of the 1950s, an accusation was as good as a conviction -- much like with the Bush/John Ashcroft concept of justice.

The FBI would eventually reveal that Kaufman was an "activist" judge -- but not in the style about which conservatives like to bash liberal jurists. Rather, Kaufman saw his job as intensely political. He had a mission to accomplish, and it didn't include a fair trial. The judge conspired with prosecutors. Kaufman was anything but impartial -- much like the judges Bush and Ashcroft want sitting on the federal bench. In fact, Bill Pryor would have adored Judge Kaufman.

Let's get one thing straight. There is no liberal Democratic conspiracy to deny George Bush his right to appoint federal judges. There was a vast right-wing conspiracy to do just that sort of thing to Bill Clinton. The numbers tell the story. In his first 28 months in office, Bush has had 124 of 126 judicial nominees approved. That's a far higher average than Clinton ever achieved during his administration. Fifteen percent of all federal judges are now Bush appointees.

Clinton's appointments were routinely blocked by Republicans amid false allegations that the moderate nominees were really liberal extremists.

The records were clear: Clinton's picks weren't ideologues. Bush's are.

The Republicans have been fulminating over the Democratic filibusters to stop the federal court appointments of Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Pryor, who as Alabama's attorney general is doing a good job of reinforcing the image of that state as woefully backward, has been nominated to the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Georgia, Florida and Alabama. He is likely to create the third filibuster.

The howl from the GOP, reverberating through the empty heads on talk radio, is that the Democrats are being mean to nominees such as Estrada, Owen, Carolyn Kuhl, Charles Pickering, James Leon Holmes -- and now Pryor. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, for example, trumpeted Pryor's "zeal for the law" as Republicans tried to dismantle the time-honored filibuster rules.

When you look at the records of the Bush picks, "zeal for the law" doesn't flash in big letters.

  • Estrada is a stealth missile from the far right -- he refuses to disclose his thinking on key issues, but he did help concoct the strategy that overturned democracy in the 2000 Florida recount scandal.

  • Owen once required a young girl to prove she could cite the religious objections to abortion.

  • Kuhl ruled that a woman couldn't sue for invasion of privacy after a doctor allowed a drug company representative to covertly peek at the patient's breast examination.

  • Pickering, of Mississippi, has tried to downplay recurrent themes of racism in his record -- and has lied about his former law partner, one of the South's most virulent segregationists.

  • Holmes has opined that a wife is to "subordinate herself to her husband" and that rape victims don't need access to abortions because they seldom become pregnant.

    Pryor combines all of the worst elements of Bush's other nominees and adds a new layer -- total, thorough scorn for 30 years of judicial history.

    The most incendiary elements of Pryor's record include his astounding conclusion equating homosexual acts with "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia (if the child should credibly claim to be 'willing')."

    He has written that the "Christian perspective" should dominate public life. He has called the Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history." He has vowed (claiming Jesus' support) to end the "so-called wall of separation between church and state."

    Environmental groups are unanimously appalled at Pryor's record -- which includes such extreme opinions as that the federal government has no power to protect wetlands from destruction.

    Pryor is adamantly "state's rights" -- for example, he doesn't feel federal courts should be allowed to declare torturous forms of punishment unconstitutional. His one state's rights exception: He was the only state attorney general to back the five GOP Supreme Court justices when they stopped the Florida vote recount.

    The real question Americans should be asking about Bush's judicial appointments is "why?" Equally perplexing, even amusing: From what vat does Bush find one legal monster after another?

    The Bush regime is shrewd -- it's the handiwork of Karl Rove. I have no doubt that those behind Bush wouldn't flinch at the overthrow of the freedoms essential to America. But brutal, overt attacks create resistance. Bush practices compassionate despotism. For example, unlike the European totalitarians or the dictators in the banana republics, who sent in the goons to break up printing presses, Bush buys media acquiescence with hundreds of billions of dollars in deregulation giveaways.

    Similarly with the courts, Bush knows that a dispassionate and largely non-political judiciary would eventually muster the courage to thwart the regime's assault on the Constitution. So, Bush, looking ahead to a political Armageddon in which Americans' freedoms are at stake, is furiously stuffing the courts with his ideologues. Then, when our rights are declared inoperative or even unpatriotic, Bush can assert it's all very "legal."

    Pryor, among his failings, has constantly injected politics into his view of the law. He praised the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the Florida vote case because it was a political statement by the Republican justices. He belittles respected jurists, such as Supreme Court Justice David Souter, because they won't submerge their faith in the Constitution to political exigencies.

    There is another force at work here. Two Supreme Court justices, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor, may retire as early as this summer. Not content with a 5-4 conservative majority, Bush wants to up his Supreme Court majority and to turbo charge the fanaticism of the court's right wing.

    However, Bush knows that the public and the Senate will be much more skeptical of an extremist nominated to the high court than they have been of lower court appointees. The Democrats might actually wake up and act like an opposition party.

    So, Bush has unleashed his right-wing fringe judicial candidates for two reasons. First, almost anyone he nominates to the Supreme Court will seem "moderate" by comparison.

    Second, he has given the GOP time to practice its chant that the Democrats are blocking good candidates. That's a glaring mendacity, but Bush's main commodity is deception.

    Senior Editor John Sugg -- who says, "Heck, at least with a dictatorship, I wouldn't have to worry about what I'll write next week" -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at

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