Sunday, May 31, 2009


Like so many people, I was saddened today to hear about the murder (assassination? execution?) of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita. Though I did not know him personally, I am connected to people who did and who will miss him deeply. My very good friend describes him as a hero and her word is good enough for me.

Throughout the day, I have been reading blog posts and articles and comments and message boards. And, of course, so much of the discussion has gone back to the very heart of the same old pro-life vs. pro-choice arguments relating to "elective" abortion. I've tried to think about writing a blog post of my own, but nothing seemed quite right. All day long, I have been struggling with the fact that this man's murder has been lumped in to the plain old abortion argument. It shouldn't be. It can't be.

Because Dr. Tiller (don't anyone dare refer to him as "Mr. Tiller" on my blog!) did not practice in the realm of first trimester abortion. Dr. Tiller's practice doesn't involve the standard issues of birth control and abstinence and personal responsibility and adoption and sex education. Dr. Tiller's practice dealt with the fetus that developed without a brain and conjoined twins that could not survive and women diagnosed with cancer post-pregnancy and women suffering ramifications to their own health that they never dreamt of on that happy day months prior when the stick turned pink. These weren't unwanted pregnancies; they were very much wanted pregnancies that went hideously wrong. Or, worst of the worst, were the ridiculously young victims of sexual abuse whose pregnancies were so unexpected that they went undetected until they necessitated late-term abortions. Dr. Tiller demonstrated such dedication and compassion to these women as he provided them a safe environment for dealing with these worst-case scenarios in private.

So let's not use Dr. Tiller's murder as yet another chance to trot out the tired "I am pro-choice: choosing abstinence or birth control!" line. Or "we need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through sex education." Because what Dr. Tiller did really didn't have anything to do with those things. Instead, we should focus on the real heart of what Dr. Tiller worked so tirelessly to protect: the rights of women to deal with these gut-wrenching situations in private and to make their heart-breaking, impossible decisions for themselves. The women facing these horrific situations have even fewer kind faces to turn to after Sunday's tragic event. Those of us who value women, who respect their personal autonomy, and who believe that women should be left alone to make the decisions that are best for them and their families should be alarmed. Who will be left to help these women? And we must not let the discussion surrounding Dr. Tiller's murder be co-opted by those who believe all abortions involve a woman who just callously woke up one day and decided she didn't feel like being pregnant anymore.

There ought to be a code

Apparently, my garage is a high crime area. There was the attempted firewood theft. Then there was Luther's trespassing. Last week, my garage was officially burglarized. The door was broken and the lawn mower was stolen. Then today, some guy walked through my carport right to my garage door, evidently intending to walk right in and help himself to whatever he wanted. A brazen act considering there were two vehicles on the driveway, making it pretty likely that someone was home, and he had to walk right past the kitchen window.

The garage door was locked, so he started to walk away. We saw him and went to confront him. He did not answer us, but ducked his head and put his hand in front of his face. A clear indication of nefarious intent as far as I'm concerned. He said nothing. He just walked quickly to his car, parked in the middle of the alley a house down. SO got the license plate number and called the cops. My gut tells me this was the same guy who took the lawn mower last week, come back to take whatever the hell else he wanted. Maybe the t.v. or the tools. As a bonus, he could have had another lawn mower: the one I acquired as a replacement for the stolen mower.

I wonder how these guys would feel if they found out they were committing these piddly little crimes against a public defender? Isn't it part of the code that petty thieves don't mess with the lawyers who help them out? At the very least, they ought to avoid committing crimes against public defenders for their own self-interest. My lawn mower thief has really cut into the pool of attorneys who will be eligible to represent him if busted. I think I'm going to post a sign on my garage "Property of a Public Defender." Maybe that'll help. Or maybe I'll just build a fence.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sotomayor Suggested Reading

I have things I want to say about the kerfuffle around Sotomayor's nomination, but I keep finding professional writers who say it better than I can.

David Brooks on that empathy thing. I love his reminder that a lack of empathy is a diagnostic marker of sociopaths.

Sherrilyn Ifill on the racism thing

One thing I do have to note about the hideous, racist quote (beyond the obvious: read the whole speech and then we'll talk) is this: she said she hoped a wise Latina woman would reach a better conclusion than a white male. Does anyone else see the adjective missing before the words white male? I know in the rest of that section, she was talking about wise men versus wise women. (I know because I've read the whole speech.) And in her very next sentence, she uses the adjective wise to describe two male justices. Still, as an appellate lawyer who is stuck with nothing more than the cold words on the page, the absence of that word "wise" in the disputed sentence sticks out to me. I, too, would hope the wise woman would make a better decision than the unwise (non-wise?) man.

If the plain words of the sentence are to be interpreted, there is nothing remotely racist about hoping the wise person would make a better decision than the person who cannot be described as wise. Maybe people want to argue that's not really what she meant and the wise was implied. But in my appellate world view, I'm stuck with the words as they appear on the page.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Proof that Johnson County, KS girls are the smartest anywhere:

Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe won the National Spelling Bee. Congratulations to my local girl.

And since I'm one of those super smart Johnson County girls, I can spell her name!

(I just blew my case for JoCo girls, didn't I?)

Dear woman in line in front of me at the store,

I know you think that when you shop at the touchy-feely community food coop, no one cares about rules. You think everyone should be totally happy-go-lucky hippies living a leisurely life. We should all have no sense of time because we're too busy smelling the roses and enjoying the little things in life. We shouldn't ever get annoyed because we're so in tune with our bodies what with all the organic foods: the whole grains, the free-range chicken, the tofu, the soymilk. No one could possibly be annoyed in that bastion of mother earthiness.

Well, you thought wrong. Even in the happy coop, the express lane should still be reserved for people with 8 items or less! The person behind you, trying to buy just one measly carton of rice milk, will most definitely be highly, highly annoyed at your hogging the express lane with your 5 bags worth of groceries. I did not refrain from punching you because I have such fantastically regular bowel movements from all those fiber-rich foods I buy at the coop. I did not refrain from punching you because you are 70 years old. I did not refrain from punching you because of the happy hormones they pump through the air at the coop. I refrained from punching you only because it is illegal. But I wanted to punch you.

Then again, maybe if I did all my shopping at the coop, I wouldn't be so hostile.

Nah, I'd still think it incredibly rude and presumptuous for someone buying out the store to use the express lane. But maybe I wouldn't be annoyed enough to blog about it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In which I praise a prosecutor. Really.

Jerry Lee Evans was allowed to walk out of a courtroom a free man today, 23 years after being wrongly convicted. Mr. Evans' comments conveyed more hope and optimism than I think I could muster. I fear I would be a bitter, angry woman if I spent 2 decades in prison for a crime I didn't commit. Larry King featured the story tonight on his show. On his website, he included these comments from two other exonerees, who also somehow seem to be able to focus on the positives of their new lives. (I wish all exonerees could have such positive experiences, but as we know from Tim Masters, not all exonerees are able to succeed after their release.)

Dallas County DA Craig Watkins also appeared on Larry King. He has been a huge help to those who have been wrongly convicted in Dallas County. When he took over the office, he began a special unit to look into convictions that could be re-examined, mostly due to DNA evidence. 20 people have now been exonerated from Dallas County alone. On Larry King Live, Watkins spoke about the need for prosecutors to return to a focus on the true job: seeking truth and justice, not just seeking convictions. He also said anyone who claims we have never executed an innocent person in this country is incredibly naive.

The nation desperately needs more prosecutors like Craig Watkins so that we can root out as many of the innocents, like Jerry Lee Evans and the 19 other exonerees from Dallas County, as possible.

Math is hard

Oh my goodness. I am stunned, actually, at how much traction the whole "she's been reversed 60% of the time" notion has gotten. Oh my goodness! The sky is falling! She's the worst judge ever! The US Supreme Court has reversed her 60% of the time!!! Has any Supreme Court nominee in history been this incompetent?! This wrong?! This god-awful terrible at being a judge?!?! It's all over the t.v.s and the internets. It's the funniest thing I've ever heard, seen, and read. The word of the day is absurd. This reversal rate crap is absurd.

Please tell me that you have all heard or read why this is such nonsense (or can figure it out for yourselves). The 60% is 3 out of 5. The US Supreme Court has reversed her written opinions in 3 out of 5 cases. Well, that sure does sound bad. Boy, she's written 5 opinions in 11 years and she's gotten 3 of 'em wrong! And what sort of a slacker judge only issues 5 written opinions in 11 years?! Oh, wait. She's issued about 380 written opinions in 11 years. Hmm. And the Supremes have reversed her only 3 times? See how different that sounds? That makes her sound downright brilliant. She gets it right 99% of the time!

Basically, the US Supreme Court takes so very few cases (about 80 a year out of the thousands and thousands of cases handled by the federal circuit courts), the results of those 80 cases are not statistically significant. Even if they were, the court reverses 75% of the cases it does take, so Sotomayor is a little above average. As a federal appellate judge, Justice Alito was reversed 100% of the time. He was 2 for 2. (Oy, how did that idiot ever get confirmed to the high court?!)

Maybe the anti-Sotomayorians should have done just a wee bit of research (and basic math) before making this the talking point of the day. It just makes it so easy for us leftists to mock.

Really, who's playing "identity politics"?

Sonia Sotomayor is a Latina woman. True. Why does that mean that she couldn't possibly have been picked as a nominee for the US Supreme Court on her merits? I am deeply offended by the number of people claiming that this was only, and necessarily ONLY, an "identity politics" play. She couldn't possibly have been picked because she's an outstanding jurist with a keen intellect. She couldn't possibly be a real, substantive choice for the court. Instead, she has been labeled as an "affirmative action" pick. As far as I can tell, the only way for the nominee not to be branded with these labels, vaguely suggesting a racist motivation in the pick, would be to be a white man, or maybe a Ginsburg-like white woman. Isn't it just possible that this particular minority candidate gave the best interview? When will we allow that a minority candidate might actually be capable of advancing to the highest levels because she deserves it?

Can we at least all agree, no matter what else you think of the pick, that she is clearly one in that pool of maybe 50-100 people nationwide who are "qualified" to sit on the Supreme Court? Graduated summa cum laude from Princeton. Pretty impressive, no? Yale Law, where she was an editor of the law journal. Federal district court judge for 6 years. (Yay for saving baseball!) Federal appellate judge for 11 years. Taught at NYU and Columbia Law Schools. Those are some prestigious schools, prestigious jobs. Sitting on a federal appellate circuit court is a standard stepping-stone to the highest court. She's got the resume, right? Put that same resume under the name of John Smith and no one would think he only got the nod because he was a white male.

Sotomayor has been mentioned for a while now as a possibility for the high court, so she's not some unheard-of, maverick-y pick out of left field. (Get who I'm thinking of there?) Political nerds and court watchers who like to think about who might get the next Supreme Court spot have been thinking about her, even before the 2008 election. So she's well-educated, experienced, and has been on the radar for some time.

But to some, her pick is only about her ethnicity and her gender to the exclusion of all other things. I readily admit that I have said the next Supreme Court pick had to be a woman. And I do not back away from that statement. But that statement was always made with the knowledge that there are easily a dozen women (probably an underestimate) who are in that top pool of candidates who are unquestionably fit for the high court. Sotomayor is unquestionably one of those dozen. Given the absolute gender imbalance in the history of the court, I feel that is such a dire problem that it simply had to be addressed. But I never wanted to pick just any old, stupid broad with a law degree. My point was that because there are numerous, highly-qualified, brilliant jurists of the female persuasion, there would be no good reason for bypassing a woman to put man #109 on the court instead of woman #3.

Frankly, it's just a bonus that she would be the first Latina justice. To me, it's actually kind of heart-breaking that we haven't yet progressed to a point where we don't still have these kinds of firsts. It's also heart-breaking to learn how many people assume that a Latina woman can't possibly be qualified to do the job for which she is nominated. Yes, she is an appealing candidate because she would bring some much-needed diversity to the panel of nine. No one, though, should make the insulting mistake of thinking she can't be fit for the job because she's only a Latina woman.


I am feeling unfocused lately. I can't seem to keep my mind quiet or even limit it to one thought at a time lately. I'm sure much of this (all?) is due to the soul-crushing workload. Now I am faced with the (soul-crushing) reality that even after the current monster of a case is done, there will be no break. The next case is already pressing down upon me so the hope I had of taking a week off to sit at home with my dog, to clean my house, and to plant pretty things in my yard will never be anything but a hope.

As proof of my fragmented mind, here are the things I have thought about since getting up this morning:

-people need to stop providing Ann Coulter a tv platform for spewing her nonsensical rants

-my drive to the carpool is several minutes shorter now that school is out, between no school zones and no university traffic. The downside to school being out: bored middle schoolers who break into garages and steal lawn mowers.

-I love being able to blog while riding the van to work! Very calming for me. But I was almost in a very scary accident as I was writing this.

-I had yummy food for lunch, but I forgot to bring it. Guess I have yummy food for dinner.

-I need to build a fence to keep the lawnmower thiefs (aka little punks) out. Any ideas what it should look like?

-my house painter said he has done 3 other houses in the same general color as I chose. Guess I'm not so unique.

-last night, the real housewives of New Jersey weren't as delightfully trashtastic as I had hoped they would be.

Now I need to try to channel all my thoughts and energy into crafting the best legal arguments I can. It has been quite a while since I have achieved that perfect controlled burn of outrage at which I am the most effective advocate I can be. Here's hoping I find my zone today.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If the Cy Young were voted on right now, it would go to

Zack Greinke. Really, do I need any words? He's just the best pitcher in the majors.

In 10 starts, his ERA is 0.85. That's not a misprint and since he's maintained it over 10 games, it's clearly not a fluke. The second lowest ERA in the AL is 2.52. In 74 innings, he's given up 54 hits and struck out 80.

I am delighted that we have signed this kid to a long-term contract because I think he might be pretty good.

Work day #1

Work has begun on my house. It is desperately in need of painting and siding repair. I came home today to find all the storm windows out, the shutters off, and some of the rotten siding off the back addition. My house looks naked without those shutters.

We learned a couple of interesting tidbits upon removing the siding. First, whoever put that addition on used very cheap particle board as siding. Once the paint started chipping off this winter, that particle board had no chance. Cheap particle board is no match for even a mild Kansas winter. We also learned why the siding was warped in one particular spot. We were worried about some serious water damage that might require a bit more structural fix. But, no. Fortunately, the cause is much simpler, and sillier, than water. Underneath the siding is a vine. A thick vine. It had grown up underneath the siding.

That vine will be removed. All the rotted, cheap siding will be replaced. The whole house will get a pretty, pretty facelift. And in just 8 or 9 days, I will have a shiny, like-new house. Anyone want to guess what color I have chosen?

Today's the day

The California Supreme Court announced last week that they will release their decision on Prop 8 today. Most who observed the oral arguments came away with the impression that the court will uphold Prop 8. Tucker Carlson and Greta Van Susteran's fill-in spoke last night as if the only just and principled thing for the court to do would be to affirm the will of the majority.

Well, with all due respect to the bow-tied one (which isn't all that much), Carlson and those who agree with him could not be more wrong. And they really need to brush up on their Federalist Papers. The majority cannot strip constitutional rights from a minority by a simple majority vote. James Madison warned us against giving in to tyranny of the majority.

Could a majority of Kansans vote to outlaw the practice of Judaism in our state? Of course not. Nor could we by majority vote pass a law denying Republicans the right to protest. These absurd-sounding laws are clearly unconstitutional. Even if 60% of Kansans voted for these laws, they would never survive legal challenge under the Kansas or US Constitutions and rightly so.

I submit that Prop 8 is no different from those hypothetical laws. Prop 8 seeks to strip constitutional rights from a minority. As such, it should itself be declared unconstitutional. Prop 8 was a response to the California Supreme Court's finding that gays did have a right to marry under that state's constitution. So if Prop 8 is affirmed, the California court will allow 52% of the state's population to strip a constitutional right from a politically unpopular minority. That is the far more alarming possibility.

Constitutional rights must not be subjected to popularity contests.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

One last time

Ok, I know I said I was done with Dick Cheney. But all of a sudden, he's all over the place. When he was Vice President, no one ever knew where he was. He was hidden away in some bunker somewhere. I wish he would crawl back into that bunker. And I promise, I really will be done with him. In fact, here, since I posted that this morning, I'll say that I will be done with him today, so this will be my very last post on him.

I watched some snippets of his speech today and have read through the entire text. Let me quote the paragraph that stood out to me:

"So we're left to draw one of two conclusions - and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event - coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come."

This paragraph encapsulates for me why the Bush administration was such a colossal failure: they truly saw things as black and white, either/or. The above paragraph sets up a false dichotomy, claiming that there are only two possible conclusions to be drawn and that there can be no middle scenario. But there is. Of course there is, and anyone with any logic skills can see the deep flaw in Cheney's thinking.

Cheney's only goal is to get everyone to say the Bush administration was right, should not be questioned, and set forth a policy that we should continue to follow without alteration. He claims if he had it all to do over again, he would do everything the same "without hesitation." He views discussion, questioning, rethinking, and retooling as weakness. Thus, he reveals his, and the Bush administration's, greatest weakness: the inability, or unwillingness, to change course. Stubbornly pursuing a course of action is not good leadership. A true leader can listen to opposing viewpoints, can acknowledge when someone proposes a better idea, and can admit making a mistake.

I have now said my peace and I truly am done with Dick Cheney. He is irrelevant to me.

It's good to have a goal

But how does one come up with this as a goal?

43 snails on his face? Boy hopes he set a record

Never mind the ick factor, a Utah boy is trying to get into the record books by covering his face with live snails. Link

I kinda hope he succeeds in getting himself in the Guinness Book. But I would recommend that if he ever wants to get lucky, he keeps the photo of himself with 43 snails on his face hidden.

Ain't life grand?

Even when I'm feeling tired and discouraged, I always get quite the pick-me-up from reading news like this: Ex-soldier gets life without parole

This is the case of former soldier Steven Green. Per the article, "Green raped and killed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl after first murdering her parents and 6-year-old sister in their home." He was discharged -- for a personality disorder -- before anyone learned of the crimes, so he was tried in a federal civilian court.

The defense team never denied that Green committed the horrific crimes. From what I've read, I am presuming that they never even denied that he should spend the rest of his life in prison. They just begged the jury not to execute this "broken warrior." Sometimes as a defender in a capital case, that's all you can do: fight like hell to convince a jury to let your client live out the rest of his life in prison. Congratulations to this defense team: a very difficult, emotionally-draining job well done!

What this man did is awful, horrible, and whatever other adjective you can think of. But killing him would not fix anything or solve anything. I always get a little boost when at least one juror agrees that a vote for the death penalty will only add one more killing to the whole, tragic mess.

Things I am done with

The following is a non-exclusive list of things I am done with:

1. American Idol. And the phrase "he really made that song his own."

2. Dick Cheney

3. Rush Limbaugh. He challenged MSNBC to go 30 days without mentioning him. Well there's no way for MSNBC to win and no way for Rush to lose. Either they do it and let Rush dictate their content or they don't and that pompous blowhard can crow about how obsessed that network is with him. I say MSNBC should pass and talk about whoever and whatever they want.

4. Norm Coleman. I think most people are ready to be done with him. Sadly for Minnesota, Norm isn't done and doesn't care that he is preventing his fine state from being properly represented in the Senate.

5. The misuse of the pronouns I and me.

6. The legal conundrum I mentioned yesterday, but in a good way. I think I have finally settled on how to address the issue with the court.

7. If this worked, only being able to blog when at home. Blogger has now created mobile blogging for folks like me who can't put the Crackberry down.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In which I tap into my inner dog

I have been working on the same legal issue for 2 years now (among other things, of course). I have researched and felt defeated. I have researched and had epiphanies. Then I have researched some more, realized my brilliant epiphany was all in my head, and felt defeated once more. And now, I feel no closer to solving the conundrum than when I first began.

I feel like a dog chasing its tail. I just keep running around in circles, foolishly trying to catch this thing that is now and, barring any rib removal, will always remain just out of my reach.

But, hey, if I'm going to act like a dog, I might as well have a dog's optimism as well. Dogs don't give up just because achieving their goals is physically impossible. Dogs don't accept defeat. Each new day, they start chasing that tail because they don't let anyone tell them what they can't do. When a dog wants that tail, she keeps going for it, no matter what. So I think I'll head to work now and have another go-round at catching that tail. I think today just might be the day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's leave the missions from god to the Blues Brothers

I've seen a lot of stories lately about the prevalence of evangelical Christianity in the military. But this tidbit really stood out to me:

Or are these Bible-based intelligence briefings more evidence of the influence of evangelical Christians in the U.S. military, documented in the May issue of Harper's magazine by reporter Jeff Sharlet who says there is a "small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officers corps" who see themselves not as subversives or radicals, but as "spiritual warriors" and "government paid missionaries."

Read the whole story here.

I know it's not the entire military or everyone at the Pentagon, but the idea that there is anyone of any rank in the military who sees himself as being a spiritual warrior on some kind of mission from god scares me. I don't want anyone waging a holy war on my behalf or in the name of my country. I don't want anyone with access to tanks and big guns thinking she can do something to hasten the arrival of Armageddon. I don't think anyone's god has any place in the chain of command of the U.S. military.

And it seems a little inconsistent with the First Amendment.
I finally got a hit from Vermont! It was a stubborn state, but I got it. I feel oddly complete now.

A little more on that empathy stuff

I wanted to write a post dedicated to the question of empathy as a judicial qualification, but then I found this piece by the inimitable Dalia Lithwick, who always says it better than I do. Please read it.

Empathy isn't a bad word or a scary concept. It's most definitely not something that has no place in a court of law. It's just a recognition that there are other perspectives and experiences beyond your own. It's a recognition that the case you, the judge, are deciding is very personal to very many people. A judge who can't, or won't, take into consideration other perspectives before making the most measured, reasoned decision she can just isn't doing her job.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Know your Chief Justice

Here is an interesting, and thorough, read about Chief Justice John Roberts. The line that most stuck out to me was this, "In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff."

Yikes. And he's only 54. He could stay on the bench for a long, long time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Home sweet home

My sister and I could not be more different. She's a born-again Christian Republican. Really, need I say more? I relish periods of solitude: long walks or drives, sitting by myself in my house with a book, going to a movie alone; she wants to cry if she's alone for more than half an hour. She likes to plan everything far in advance: what she's going to wear the next day, what she's going to order when she goes out to dinner in 3 days, what she will name her dog; I like to wait until the moment and see how I feel. I couldn't name my dog until I met her, but my sister had her dog's name picked out months in advance. I'm a pretty independent person who doesn't really like talking about her feelings; my sister is, well to put it as nicely as I can, she's emotionally clingy and frequently mad at me for my unwillingness to share.

The differences between us are clear when you look at how we have lived. I couldn't wait to have an apartment to myself and only caved into the need for a roommate for two years in law school for financial reasons. She had roommates for years after she was done with graduate school and could have easily afforded living on her own. Her last rental was an apartment in a gated community; mine was a renovated carriage house. So when it came time for us both to buy our first houses, it was no surprise that she chose a newer townhouse in a suburban community while I chose a 100 year-old house near the heart of downtown.

I know why she chose a townhouse. She chose it because what was important to her in a home was security and ease. She didn't want to be responsible for a yard or for any exterior maintenance. Any yard work or painting or repairs that need to be done are covered by those handy HOA dues she pays every month. She doesn't mind not being able to do her own landscaping or choose her own paint color because those things don't matter to her. She doesn't care that her house looks just like all the other units in the complex. She also doesn't mind the shared walls, complete with their reminders that she isn't completely alone. Her home is her safe haven, but her idea of a safe haven is very different from mine.

I wanted the privacy that one can only get through having 4 walls that belong to no one but me. I wanted to know that I was beholden to no one about the things I do to my yard (which is not much). I wanted to be able to paint my house any damn fool color I choose. And I wanted a house that had its own personality, on a street where no two houses look alike. My safe haven is my own little plot of earth where no one can tell me what to do and where I rule all.

So she's got a beige townhouse and I've got a bright blue colonial with gingerbread. (Side question: who puts gingerbread on a colonial?) All her walls are still the standard complex off-white while mine are green and red and purple. I think she just thinks painting is a hassle; I think painting is kind of fun.

It goes so much deeper for both of us, though. She believes that as a good Christian woman, her highest purpose in life is to be someone's wife and someone's mother. So she was probably a little crushed at the realization that she would have to buy a house on her own if she didn't want to keep renting. She doesn't want to be in charge of things like yard work and repairs because it's a reminder to her that she hasn't found her perfect man to be responsible for those things in her life. So perhaps part of my drive to have a creaky, old house that needs so much TLC is to show her that I don't share her view on gender roles.

This past week, I was faced with the realization that her approach to home-ownership has its advantages. My house has not fared well over the winter and is now in desperate need of siding repair and repainting. As I nervously waited for estimates of just how much the full job would cost me, I couldn't help but wish, just this once, that I had gone the way my sister did and bought a blander, but much lower-maintenance, townhouse where exterior repair work wouldn't be my headache. The estimates came in at much higher than I would have liked. It would be really nice to be able to turn the bills over to an HOA. It would be delightful not to have to worry about keeping the contractor on schedule and on budget. Maybe I wouldn't even mind having some nice husband, a benevolent dictator of sorts, who could do it all for me.

But the bottom line is this: I can paint my own house whatever damn fool color I choose. So in about 3 weeks, I will have a fully-repaired house. And it will be red. Carmine, to be exact. With a green door and green shutters. Cream trim. The gingerbread is staying, too, because I don't care that a colonial house isn't supposed to have gingerbread.

I think my sister made the right housing choice for herself. I am positive I made the right choice for me. I can only hope that my sister loves her little townhouse as much as I love my creaky old house. I'm gonna love it even more once it's red.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I really need season finale week to be over. I've just got one show on Sunday and two on Monday left. (Yes, I watch "Gossip Girl". Got a problem with that?) Maybe then I will return to getting work done in the evenings. Last night was particularly unproductive (and I didn't even get to watch the second half of the Real Housewives of NY Reunion).

Or maybe I just need to stop making excuses and devote all my time and attention to work. I just can't seem to find that focus. I know in the end that I always get my work done, and usually much better than I give myself credit for. But the process of getting there is always maddening to me. I always feel like I do nothing and have nothing to show for weeks, but then when push comes to shove, I realize I really have covered all my bases. So I could have saved myself weeks of hating myself and feeling incompetent if I would have just put it all together instead of dithering around like an idiot. I know I shouldn't put myself through this with every case, and yet I do it time and time again. Isn't that the definition of insanity?

On the upside, I'm getting the exterior of my house totally repaired and painted. It will look so much better (though everyone assures me it doesn't really look as dilapidated as I think it does). Guesses on what color I've chosen? (No fair answering if you've already seen my leading color palette.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My dog now owes me $7: one for the bill she chewed up a few weeks ago and another 6 for the five and the one she got tonight.

And right under my nose. I guess I really don't pay enough attention to her.
I was doing it again today. I know I shouldn't, but I can't help myself. I read those damn comments on newspaper websites. I know that commenters will often cast aspersions on the defense attorneys who represent people accused of crimes. I don't understand why, but I know people feel defense attorneys are scum.

But some people suggest that the defense attorneys themselves should do time in prison. Or be held civilly liable for causing pain and suffering to the victims by prolonging the process. You know, by protecting the accused's constitutional rights. I find that attitude infuriating. God knows those commenters would go running for help if they were ever accused of anything.

But someone today took it a step farther. A commenter today wrote that the attorney should be killed. And only one person chastised the poster. One out of many is hardly enough. What is wrong with people? Think what you will of defense attorneys (although why you hate due process is beyond me), but can't we all agree that threatening to kill attorneys is wrong? It doesn't make you pro-criminal to step up and tell that commenter the threat was over the line.

Consider yourself on notice

To my local ABC affiliates:

If severe weather coverage interferes with the season finale of LOST, I will be unhappy. Very unhappy. You don't want to make me cry, now do you?

So weather updates, if necessary, can be contained to commercial breaks, don't you think? I think so.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Good news

Paul House is finally, finally a free man. Prosecutors drop charges against former TN death row inmate. I've written about his case before here, here, and here.

House was originally convicted of murdering Carolyn Muncey in 1985. The prosecution's theory at the time was that he murdered her in connection with a sexual assault. The sexual assault theory was based on the presence of semen. But sometime in the 90s, DNA testing was finally done on that semen and we learned that the semen belonged to the victim's husband. So much for the sexual assault theory. Amazingly, prosecutors managed to hang on to Mr. House's conviction for another few years, then were able to keep him in jail for years even after his conviction was reversed. He was finally released on bond in September, still awaiting a new trial.

In the meantime, more DNA testing was done on a hair found clutched in the victim's hand. Once upon a time, the prosecutor promised he would drop the charges against House if that hair was not a match. Well, the hair wasn't a match, but the charges didn't go away. Finally, today, the prosecutors have acknowledged what all the rest of us have known for years: there is no way in hell they can convict this guy on the evidence as it stands today. Not his semen. Not his hair. Not his blood under her fingernails. Not his saliva on cigarette butts at the scene.

Of course, the prosecutors can't just let him go. No, they have to let him go while making mournful statements about how they're just sure he's involved. Sadly, they say, reasonable doubts have been raised to show that he did not act alone and we can't be sure what exactly his role in the killing was. Must they really take that parting shot? Can't they just say, "Our original theory was proven wrong, we have compelling physical evidence that points away from Mr. House, so we can't in good conscience pursue these charges against Mr. House any longer." Why do so many prosecutors have a physical inability to utter the words, "I made a mistake. I was wrong." It really isn't that hard and it doesn't hurt nearly as much as they fear it will.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Everyone, it seems, has seen Star Trek but me. Please don't tell me about it or talk about it too near me. I will see it. I have to see it. I knew it would be fantastic as soon as it was announced that J.J. Abrams was directing. J.J. Abrams can do no wrong. (Well, he did write Armageddon, but other than that...)

Wasting time, but it's kinda like work

I should be working right now, what with the previously mentioned soul-crushing case and all, but instead, I can't stop myself from watching "My Cousin Vinny". I understand that there are some lawyers who don't like to watch shows or movies about the law, but I am not one of them. I watch all the law shows (except Law & Order ever since the episode where they sentenced a criminal defense attorney to 20 years for refusing to reveal where the bodies were buried because that would have violated attorney-client privilege). And I love trial movies.

"Vinny" is one of those that I watch every time it's on. We "studied" that movie in law school, as good examples of a cross-examination. He does an excellent job of questioning those 3 eyewitnesses in a firm way but without being a jerk or even unkind. Well, he's a little tough on Mr. Magic Grits, but that guy deserved it. He's not a fast cook and the laws of physics don't actually cease to exist on his stove. I also like to use "Vinny" as an example of how the state's case may seem really strong, even airtight, and yet be completely bogus. Mr. Trotter had 3 eyewitnesses and a confession, after all. The only problem with "Vinny" is the bad rap public defenders get. But I'll still watch it.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, you know how towards the end, Mr. Trotter says he's got that surprise witness and Vinny objects with his well-reasoned, legally-correct objection which the judge overrules: well, in my experience, sadly, most judges really would overrule that objection. An awful lot of them would also deny any real continuance to allow the defense to prepare. Most defendants wouldn't be lucky enough to have Miss Mona Lisa Vito in the courtroom to rebut the state's surprise new evidence. In the real world, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure are almost always construed in favor of the prosecution.

Of course, I always watch "Legally Blonde", too. I first saw that movie on the second (and final) day of the bar exam. I think it made more of an impression on me because I still thought of myself as a law student (even though I'd been working as a pseudo-lawyer for almost 2 months). I remember when Chutney casually tossed out that she'd gotten a perm that day. Bruiser (the dog) stands up in his bag and barks. Elle doesn't seem to pick up on it right away, but I did! I'm enough of a Cosmo girl to know you don't wash your hair for 24 hours after getting a perm. (In case you're wondering, I have never gotten a perm; my curls are all natural, thank you.)

Perhaps my favorite, must always watch trial movie is "A Few Good Men". My family and I went to see that on Christmas Eve 1992. At the time, I don't think I even knew who Noah Wyle was, so I didn't know to be excited that my favorite ER doc was in the movie. Cuba Gooding, Jr., was also unknown to us then, as it was long before anyone would show him an Oscar for asking to be shown the money. And Demi Moore's second husband was 14 and living in Cedar Rapids, IA (home of my grandparents). The movie was a great one for everyone in my family to watch. Now I've seen it so many times, I can't watch it without reciting many of the lines, especially Jack Nicholson's response to Tom Cruise's demand for the truth. You know it, too. Who doesn't love that movie?

So those are the three legal movies that I always watch whenever they're on, but none of them contain what is probably my favorite courtroom scene of all time. That one has to go to "Miracle on 34th Street". The real one with Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood. (In my world, that is the only one. The remake doesn't exist. Neither does "Legally Blonde 2".) Because I love clever lawyer tricks, I love, love, love the way Fred Gailey proves his case. Get the opposing party to stipulate to the honesty and accuracy of your evidence before they even know what's happening. Who doesn't love the moment after the judge has commanded Fred to put the additional pieces of evidence "right here on my desk." Then the dozens of mail bags come in and are dumped out on the bench. Classic.

So, my fellow lawyers: do you watch trial movies or no? If so, what are your favorites? What about you readers who aren't lawyers? Do you like to watch movies or shows about your profession? None of you should worry that obliging me in my fairly obvious attempt to procrastinate will actually prevent me from getting all of my work done.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sometimes you gotta cut loose -- Footloose

17 year-old Tyler Frost can kick off his Sunday shoes for a few days. Because if he goes to that immoral dance with its brianwashing music, he will be suspended from his private Baptist high school.

Christian school tells boy to skip prom

A student at a Baptist school that forbids dancing, rock music, hand-holding and kissing will be suspended if he takes his girlfriend to her public high school prom, his principal said.Link

Much like Ren McCormack, Tyler presented his case to the proper authorities. He wanted to take his girlfriend to her prom. He went to his high school principal to get a signature, approving his attending the other prom. The principal signed the permission slip (required by the public school), but then told the boy he would be suspended from school if he attended. If he gets involved with alcohol or sex at the prom, he'll be expelled.

I guess Heritage Christian School doesn't have much faith in its indoctrination -- oops, I mean teaching -- methods. Because, evidently, they think letting Tyler out of their grip for one night with that devilish rock music risks his everlasting soul. If they've taught him well and prepared him to be a good, strong Christian young man, shouldn't he be well-equipped to spend one evening among non-believers without losing his moral compass? I would respectfully suggest that they would do better by their students to teach them to hold strong to their moral views in the face of temptation instead of requiring them always to turn away from it.

In other words, I don't think wanting to take his girlfriend to her prom is any cause for alarm about the state of his soul. I think it's sweet.

But since I don't believe in God, I like dancing, and I love loud music (and alcohol) (and sex), they probably don't much care about my opinion.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Women: in the military and on the bench

From The Nation and NPR today, we have this editorial about the plight of women in the military. Please read the piece because my rehashing it here won't do the authors justice.

Frankly, I don't think any commentary is necessary because the horror stories women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing speak for themselves. The rate of rape and sexual assault in the military is outrageous and the lack of consequences for the assaulters is doubly so. The complaints of the women in combat (though technically, the military doesn't have to acknowledge that they're in combat because technically, they're only in "support" roles) are falling on deaf ears: complaints not just about assault, but about daily harassment, name-calling, and denigrating comments and attitudes. It's more than a little disheartening to realize that in 2009, there are still areas in which sexism of this nature runs rampant.

After reading this editorial today, it occurred to me that I read another woman complaining about being disregarded by her male colleagues this week: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The USA Today featured a story about the lone female Supreme Court Justice earlier this week. Justice Ginsburg spoke openly about her experiences as the only woman on the nation's highest court. In conferences among the nine justices, Justice Ginsburg has presented her view and been disregarded, only to have one of her colleagues (a male, of course) state the same view. Suddenly, the opinion not worth discussing when suggested by Ginsburg had merit.

From the streets of Baghdad to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court, sexist attitudes still prevail. In 2009.

So this is what I think President Obama means when he says a Supreme Court Justice should have empathy. Only one justice on the current court can truly empathize with the military women who are being abused daily by the very institution that is supposed to have their backs. Her ability to understand in some way the plight of those military women would be invaluable in considering any legal issue that might make its way to the Supreme Court. Maybe the men on the court would be more inclined to listen to their female colleague if she had a little back-up.

For me, there's no getting around this basic fact: the most important qualification for Obama's first Supreme Court selection is sex. His choice has to be a woman. Based on his short list that's circulating, it appears he gets this.

Maybe there is something to this rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents

Here is a story from ESPN about one of the newest additions to the Tennessee Volunteers football program. The signing of Daniel Hood to a scholarship has stirred up controversy among Vol fans. Many fans have serious reservations about allowing the young man into the program because when Hood was 13, he was convicted in juvenile court of kidnapping and rape. He was placed in a youth development center. While in state custody, he enrolled in a Catholic high school. He helped the school win a state championship and was named the state's Mr. Football for his class. And he was an honor student with a 3.8 GPA.

Lane Kiffin, Tennessee head coach, and his staff spent months considering Hood. They spoke to people throughout the high school and the community. Kiffin says everyone spoke highly of Hood. The victim herself, Hood's cousin, wrote a letter of support.

It appears that Daniel Hood is a success story for the juvenile justice system. A young boy took part in a terrible crime, but after intervention and counseling and support, he has been able to transform himself into a decent young man, with bright prospects for the future. And yet, many apparently feel that he shouldn't have that chance. Because he did a bad, bad thing when he was 13. Based on some of the comments I have read online, some people truly seem to feel that doing a bad, bad thing at 13 really does mean he should never get another chance in life, even if he lives to be 90.

Why are people upset at the idea that someone who once took part in a crime could be rehabilitated and live a good life? The reality is that no matter how vindictive people want to be, we can't lock up someone for life for a crime like this that occurred when the kid was 13. We just can't. Just like we can't lock up for life the vast majority of people who are sentenced to prison. It would cripple our nation financially. (Our over-reliance on prison sentences are already contributing to massive budget problems in most states.) So the reality is that most of the people who commit crimes will once again live on the outside.

Knowing that most of them will get out, isn't it in our best interests for them to be successful on the outside? I want the Daniel Hoods of the country to do well after their times in detention. I want them to graduate high school and move on to college. I want them to find things like sports that can give them self-confidence, a sense of pride, and a sense of responsibility to others by being part of a team. I want them to reintegrate back into society because it is what is best for them and what is best for society as a whole.

We should hope that every single 13 year-old adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent can earn a college scholarship just 6 short years later. And we should hope that every college would have the courage and the wisdom that the University of Tennessee has shown by granting him that scholarship.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Little things

In the spirit of my friend ET, I am going to try something new. As you know, I have been overwhelmed by the soul-crushing workload lately. I have been staying up late and getting up early. I have been skipping meals and skipping nights out and skipping knitting club (but not skipping the nightly glass of wine). I am in a constant state of exhaustion and I kinda want to cry most of the time. So, following ET's example, I am going to make myself focus on a few good things:

1) My dog is smart. After the broken-tail incident, she has been unwilling to jump up on the bed. (I'm thinking a failed attempt to jump on the bed is responsible for the injury.) So I set up a set of doggy steps to allow her free access to the bed. She mastered the steps in like 3 tries and is now free to come and go throughout the night as she wishes. Yes, I spoil my dog and let her sleep on the bed. Anyone got a problem with that?

2) The Kansas City Royals are in first place. We haven't made the playoffs since 1985, the year we won it all. We're looking pretty good this week and we have the best pitcher in baseball.

3) Food just showed up in front of me tonight. I didn't have to do anything to get pasta and a baked chicken breast. I just held out my hands and *poof* there was dinner. I could get used to this.

My Quest

I accomplished something today. Something I have been working towards for months. It took a long time and daily effort. At first, I didn't even think this milestone was possible; I was shooting for something a little less. But then I aimed my sights higher. It has been apparent for many weeks that I would inevitably achieve the milestone I was aiming for. Every day, I got myself a little closer. Yesterday, I came close. Really close. Tantalizingly close. But I didn't quite get there. This morning, after a short dance, I got there. I finished my quest. I reached the mountaintop. And it was glorious. It's so fulfilling to reach that goal that you set for yourself, that you dedicate months to completing. It makes you feel like you can accomplish anything. I am unbeatable.

If you're wondering what I did, I brought my Spider Solitaire win percentage up to 50%. That's a really good percentage for that game. It may seem ridiculously small, but this small thing has provided me a small, daily respite from the soul-crushing workload. Anyone got a problem with that?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I just had to share this commentary I just read on CNN. First and foremost, I agree wholeheartedly with the piece. The crux of it is that we spend a ridiculous amount of money incarcerating people with very little payoff; we would be much better served by intervening in the lives of juvenile offenders with intensive therapeutic programs rather than focusing on punishment, punishment, punishment. An ounce of prevention and all that.

The reason this particular piece struck me so much is because of who wrote it. The author, Jane Velez-Mitchell, has always been associated with Nancy Grace in my mind. I remember first seeing Velez-Mitchell as a panelist on Grace's awful, horrible show. (I know, I know, I shouldn't watch Nancy Grace!) She eventually parlayed her recurring appearances on Grace's show into her own show on HLN. The focus on her show, from what I have seen, has been crime stories. She never struck me as someone who would want to be confused with being pro-criminal. Of course, suggesting a correctional system focusing more on rehabilitation than just punishment really isn't pro-criminal, it's pro-fighting crime, but the tough-on-crime crowd don't get that.

But maybe I misjudged her. Maybe she's not really anywhere near as bad as Nancy Grace.

No, Brett

Just no.

"Favre reportedly to meet with Vikings this week. Retired quarterback will discuss his role with Minnesota coach Childress" From MSNBC

Seriously? I used to be a big Brett Favre fan, but this is too much. The man is becoming a stereotypical man: he can't commit. He wants to retire, no he wants to play, no he really wants to retire, but he still wants to play. Make up your mind already!

Did you learn nothing from your less than stellar year with the Jets? You retired. Twice. Please stay that way.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Put away the pitchforks; there's nothing to rant about here

I've been pretty amused at the over-reaction by the anti-illegal immigrant crowd this evening at word of Monday's U.S. Supreme Court case. The Court had the nerve to reverse the identity theft conviction of an illegal immigrant. The decision, discussed here, was hardly earth-shattering or pro-immigrant. It was just a garden-variety statutory interpretation case. It was really only the kind of decision I would expect geeky appellate lawyers like me would enjoy.

The Court had to consider what the requisite intent of the federal aggravated identity theft statute is. The elements of that crime are that a person knowingly uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person. The Court's decision today was all about what the word knowingly modifies. They unanimously concluded the word knowingly extends to all of the elements, so the defendant has to know the id number he is using belongs to someone else (many of the fake id numbers used by illegal immigrant workers are simply made up instead of taken from citizens). The case didn't have anything to do with the defendant's immigration status. The decision would have been exactly the same had the defendant been a citizen using a fake id to keep his felony record hidden. Read the decision for yourself here.

But the national media made the headlines all about illegal immigrants. "Top Court Sides with Immigrant." "Supreme Court Sides with Undocumented Workers in Identity Theft Case." So the knee-jerks who comment on internet message boards think the Supreme Court has said it's not illegal for immigrants to use fake ids at all. From the discussions on the message boards I have found, you would think that those evil liberals on the Court (all 9 of them are now evil liberals?) unleashed a torrent of illegal immigrants on us poor, innocent, hard-working Americans. Thanks to those corrupt activist justices, illegal immigrants throughout the country are now free, absolutely free, to use my Social Security number, or yours, or anyone's, without impunity. Without any criminal punishment. People are acting like the Supreme Court said it's not a crime AT ALL for an immigrant to use a false id number.

I can only laugh because this decision was nothing like what the commenters on these message boards have been portraying it as. It's certainly not a sign of the apocalypse or a reason to start a revolution or even impeach any Supreme Court justices. For crying out loud, all the court did today was decide what the words in a criminal statute mean. It's the kind of thing criminal attorneys and judges argue about all the time. When a particular statute says a defendant did something intentionally, we argue about what the defendant had to intend. Does the defendant have to just generally intend to do the act or does she have to specifically intend the result? So this case was all about what "knowingly" means.

This decision is all about geeky lawyer word games. The justices weren't the least bit interested in inserting themselves into a public policy debate on illegal immigration. They didn't say it's not a crime for illegal immigrants to use a fake id number for work. They just clarified what the government has to prove if they want to convict those immigrants under the aggravated identity theft statute. If the government can't prove the defendant knew the id number he was using belonged to an actual person, there are plenty of other charges the feds or the individual states can pursue. I promise.

So, relax. No one needs to go apoplectic about this decision. No one needs to scream at their representatives in Congress to "fix this loophole". No one needs to take up arms against the Supreme Court because they have not, in fact, shown themselves to be on the side of the "occupiers". (Seriously, some guy on msnbc's board referred to illegal immigrants as occupiers. Not at all over the top.) The worst that will happen here is that the feds might actually have to to a little more work to get people convicted under the federal aggravated identity theft statute. While I'm sure they don't appreciate the added burden, it really is not the end of the world.

Good news? I hope

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the tragedy of kids as young as 13 and 14 being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed to take the cases of two men who were under 18 when they were sentenced to life without parole. One, Joe Sullivan, was 13 when he was sentenced to LWOP for rape. He is now confined to a wheelchair as a result of multiple sclerosis. The other, Terrance Graham, was 17 when he took part in a violent home invasion.

I will be waiting for this oral argument with much interest. In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional for anyone under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, citing the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In Kansas, LWOP is not an available punishment for any juvenile, even one convicted of capital murder. I think all states should follow that same path. If a majority of the court thinks death is too harsh for juveniles, it's reasonable to think they might extend the same logic to LWOP. But the Supremes don't always (often) go the route I think they should.

I can guess how 4 of the votes on the high court are likely to go. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito generally aren't friendly to any 8th Amendment claims, so I have no reason to think they'll like this one much, either. I would expect Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, on the other hand, to be much more sympathetic to the defendants here. Kennedy is often the key vote on a case like this. And now, of course, we have the added mystery of not even knowing who the 9th justice will be.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I hate it when I have such an overwhelming mountain of work to do that it intrudes on every moment of my life. It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I should be mowing my lawn or pulling up all the little, bitty trees that are trying to grow among the bushes in front of my house. I have laundry to do. I need to clean and prep my house to be painted. I have lots of loose boards on my garage and porch overhangs that should be nailed into place (or just replaced). There are lots of good books to read. Today would be a glorious afternoon to be sitting on my patio, reading a good book, and drinking a nice glass of wine (it is after 5 now).

But I can't do any of those things, at least not without feeling tremendously guilty. Because there is the work to be done. It is everywhere. It is in my head when I go to sleep. It is on my mind when I shower. When I go out to dinner on a Friday night, I can't enjoy myself for long before the nagging thoughts of just how much work I have to do reach deafening levels.

I know there is an end date on this. This case will be done and life might go back to something like normal. In just a few short weeks, I can waste an entire Saturday without feeling any guilt. But right now it feels impossible to see an end. All I see is work.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Montpelier or bust

In the months that I've been tracking this blog's visits, I've gotten hits from some interesting places: Russia, China, Saudi Arabia. I've got loyal readers in Canada and Italy. I've gotten hits from all over the US. But there is one state that eludes me. I have never had a reader from Vermont. So what's a blogger got to do to get someone from Vermont to read?

Friday, May 1, 2009

At least they were gonna call it what it is

Yesterday, the news broke that the Appropriations Committee of the Kansas House had passed out a budget proposal to cut all state employees' pay by 5%. The budget proposal did not include any revenue increases (aka tax increases, but we apparently don't call them that anymore) or even an agreement to halt further business tax cuts scheduled to go into effect in the next fiscal year. We state employees fumed. We fretted. We crunched numbers to see just how much we would be losing.

As I wrote about last week, we're already an underpaid lot compared to a lot of other states. And I have seen it reported that our benefits rank dead last among the 50 states. So it seems ridiculously unfair that Republicans in the House think this relatively small group of Kansans should disproportionately bear the burden of repairing some of the budget damage that their decade-long tax cut spree did.

Well, between that proposal passing out of committee yesterday and the full House considering the proposal this afternoon, I'd guess a few representatives got a few angry calls. Because today, the very guy who initially proposed the 5% cut agreed that the cut should be stricken from the budget proposal. So my plan to spend the weekend writing appropriately passionate e-mails persuading representatives to abandon the pay cut is moot.

Change is never good

I don't like change. It makes me nervous. Anytime things change, they could change for the worse. With the status quo, you know what to expect. I like knowing what to expect. So I get nervous any time a justice leaves the Supreme Court, especially when the departing justice is one of the judges who can usually be counted on to vote the way I want the case to go. I would be far less nervous if the departing justice were in the conservative wing of the court because change there could really only be good to my mind. The Court currently has an incredibly delicate balance that I worry could tip the wrong way on so many important issues.

I have been increasingly nervous about the exclusionary rule for years now. There have been increased rumblings that the exclusionary rule, the rule that says evidence obtained in unconstitutional searches cannot be used at trial, is not a valid rule under the text of the 4th Amendment. I can't fathom how anyone can think evidence obtained in violation of the constitution should be admissible in a court of law, but I'm terrified of getting too many judges on the Supreme Court who see things that way.

There are other important issues in the balance, too. Our Court for years has been a pretty even 4-4 split with a fairly moderate swing vote who can go either way. This Court threatens to retreat from the principles I hold dear, but hasn't actually pulled the trigger on anything. Yet. So I'm nervous. By putting a new justice on the court, we're upsetting the current balance.

The retiring Justice Souter is actually the best example on the current court of why we shouldn't assume that because a liberal Democrat president gets to select the nominee, the nominee will be a judge who shares my view of the Constitution. Justice Souter was appointed by Bush the 1st. He was a subtle jurist who was not expected to become entrenched as a member of the liberal wing of the court. But he did. So now I'm nervous. I will remain so until we start seeing actual decisions involving the next justice.
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