- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

H.L. Mencken, who impaled nearly everyone on the spear of caustic humor, didn’t like anyone very much. He once suggested shooting 10 percent of the judges every year in the interests of judicial reform.

The sage of Baltimore wanted to do it up legal, of course, and why not? Executing deserving judges in the name of the law would make a nifty halftime show for the Super Bowl.

Some of the lawless thugs in our midst can’t wait. The slaying of a judge in his courtroom in Atlanta and the murder of a federal judge’s husband and mother in Chicago have chilled what’s left of the dimming grandeur of our judiciary. This cruel lawlessness has given new meaning to the term “the hot squat.” That was how irreverent tabloids once described a condemned man’s death in the electric chair. Now terrified judges imagine that “the hot squat” is what they do when they take a seat on the bench.

We live in parlous and perilous times. We’re all Rodney Dangerfield now. Judges in particular “don’t get no respect.” George W. Greer, the Florida judge who condemned Terri Schiavo to death by starvation, has himself been threatened with death (though probably swifter and less painful death than starvation) and has state-supplied bodyguards 24 hours a day. The Schiavo uproar illustrates the contempt with which many Americans hold judges, who are only lawyers on a government payroll. But it certainly did not start with Schiavo. The U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for the security of the courts, reports “a dramatic increase” in threats against federal judges over the past decade. For thugs on the fringe of a society drunk on media violence, impeachment is no longer enough.

This concerns the judges first of all, but big-government liberals who have controlled the federal judiciary for so long they think they’re entitled are alarmed, too. They see their grip on the culture slipping away, and regard the Schiavo incident as a showdown between the abortion lobby and “the Christian right.” It’s also a war between the forces of light (themselves) and the forces of darkness (everybody else).

A law professor writing in The Washington Post decries “judge-bashing” as creating “an atmosphere of disrespect that encourages citizens to personalize the judiciary,” and frets that soon the public won’t “accept judicial decisions.”

“Journalists contribute to this personalization by emphasizing … the political affiliation of federal judges and the presidents who appointed them,” writes Prof. Jeffrey Rosenof George Washington University. “And even juries have succumbed to the pressures … . Until the 1960s, jurors generally refused to talk to the press, reflecting the widespread convention that justice is blind.”

Star chambers are certainly more efficient, and less inconvenient to those running the show, and no doubt many judges would relish ruling from the shadows. Once George W. Bush makes the judiciary over in the image of Antonin Scalia we’ll see how respectful of judges the professor and his friends are. (Newspapers, by the way, have always noted the partisan origins of judges, sometimes good and sometimes not so good, and reporters have always raced to find a juror who will talk about the secret deliberations to dispatch a killer or rapist to the hot squat.)

The public is not as dumb or unobservant as the judicial and media elites imagine. Justice is nice, but not always necessary; taking care of the brothers of the lodge is more important. Judge Greer said he could find nothing in the law to protect an innocent’s life, and the judges who reviewed his decision could find nothing, either. Not even an emanation or a penumbra.

Neither could Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the Supreme Court.Justice Kennedyis fond of citing the law, or the culture, or something in the water in France or Sweden when he can’t find anything in the United States Constitution. Terri, like the judges in Mencken’s formula, should just shut up and die.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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