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The War on Judges
Irresponsible Rhetoric Can Lead to Tragic Results

John Conyers Jr. (Blog)
April 04, 2005

During the protracted coverage and debate of the Schiavo matter, I was struck by the disrespectful and reckless language being used against judges. One by one, my Republican colleagues took the House floor to attack judges as "unconscionable," lacking "human compassion," needing to be held in "contempt," and having "answering to do." I remember thinking that such dehumanizing rhetoric is especially dangerous in these times towards anyone, let alone judges.

Outside the halls of Congress, words flew even more recklessly and the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay called the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube an "act of medical terrorism." The Reverend Pat Robertson called it "judicial murder."

I remember thinking about Judge Rowland Barnes of Georgia, who less than a month ago, was shot to death by an angry litigant in his courtroom, along with two other court employees. I remember thinking that irresponsible words can lead to tragic results. I thought of Judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother are thought to have been murdered by an aggrieved litigant. Since then, I have been trying to think of the most appropriate forum to gently call this to my colleagues' attention, and to remind them that -- no matter how strong our feelings about individual decisions and cases, we need to be cognizant of the influence we may have -- especially on those that may be disturbed, and we always need to know that -- as elected officials -- our words have consequences.

That was to be a subtle message. It is unfortunate that today my message must be less subtle because things are very quickly spinning out of control.

First, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, made the outrageous statement, and apparent threat, that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." When given repeated opportunities to disavow the interpretation of his comments as a threat or incitement to violence, DeLay has repeatedly declined to do so.

Tonight, my staff showed me a quote from Senator John Cornyn (found on Americablog) that speaks for itself: "And finally, I – I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news. And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in -- engage in violence. Certainly without any justification but a concern that I have that I wanted to share."

This apparent effort to rationalize violence against judges is deplorable. On its face, while it contains doubletalk that simultaneously offers a justification for such violence and then claims not to, the fundamental core of the statement seems to be that judges have somehow brought this violence on themselves. This also carries an implicit threat: that if judges do not do what the far right wants them to do (thus becoming the "judicial activists" the far right claims to deplore), the violence may well continue.

If this is what Senator Cornyn meant to say, it is outrageous, irresponsible and unbecoming of our leaders. To be sure, I have disagreed with many, many court rulings. (For example, Bush v. Gore may well be the single greatest example of judicial activism we have seen in our lifetime.) But there is no excuse, no excuse, for a Member of Congress to take our discourse to this ugly and dangerous extreme.

My message is not subtle today. It is simple. To my Republican colleagues: you are playing with fire, you are playing with lives, and you must stop.

Senator Cornyn and Congressman DeLay should immediately retract these ill considered statements.

Commentary:
I can't say for sure that these judges being killed is a result of republican rhetoric but clearly their hate for anyone who dares to disagree with them is contagious. We've witnessed entire news organization attack anyone daring to disagree with them (recall the Dixie Chicks?). Clearly something is very, very wrong in America. Not only are our judges being killed, but our deficits are soaring through the roof so Bush and his brand of Christian Conservatives can borrow money from the next generation and give it to the rich. (euphemistically called a tax cut).

Morality is dead in the US. Our churches sit back and watch a president take us to war for no reason and do nothing. They sit back and watch Bush and his congress gut programs for the poor and deny equal rights to gay Americans. Surely there's a special place in hell for these right wing fascists who've taken over our Churches and our Government.