In a Cajun funeral one’s family and close friends form the First Line and send him/her off with a procession dancing to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Homilies are recited, personal remembrances are told, and a sad time becomes a good time. Although neither Cajun nor Creole, I was honored with a rousing send off from my close friends and even closer family on Saturday, August 16, 2014. We had my funeral at JPeg Ranch and I immensely enjoyed it. It was also nice to hear what was said and sung.
One of my friends, Randy Pease who is a fine guitar player and song writer, wrote and performed “The Ballad of Jim Redwine”. Another friend, D. Neil Harris who is a judge in Mississippi and a professional trombone player, sent a video of himself playing a fine rendition of “Saints” while he whirled a Hula-Hoop.
The entire First Line of about 130 family and friends marched around our barn singing and swaying. Limericks, poems, testimonials and stories of past glories (or not) were shared as I, the Dearly Not Departed, listened carefully.
This greatly satisfying event came to mind yesterday as my sister, two sisters-in-law, two brothers and, of course, Peg, met with the Reverend Mr. Ken Woodham who wisely leads and carefully guides the combined congregations of the Pawhuska, Oklahoma First Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ churches.
Ken and the Church Board have the unenviable task of overseeing the inevitable “funeral” of the marvelous old and declining building that housed the First Christian (Disciples of Christ) congregation for almost 100 years. Countless important events such as weddings, funerals and baptisms took place in those hallowed halls. My own baptism occurred there September 9, 1951, and my siblings and I saw off our beloved parents there. Our lives and that building have progressed happily together.
Much as my own funeral, what Peg calls my Fun-er-al, was a celebration of many lives, the Church Board has wisely determined the “funeral” for the brick and mortar part of our church will be a celebration. All members, past and present, are invited to preserve mementos such as stained-glass windows, pews and tables. No charge will be made and no contributions are required. Of course, my memory of the fine people who have served this house of love and respect leads me to suspect voluntary offerings will be forthcoming. As to the real church, i.e., the people who have graced this structure that now deserves a respectful goodbye, they will live on in both memory and current service.
You might wonder about my physical well-being or perhaps my mental health. My self-diagnosis is both were good in 2014 and remain so. Of course, other opinions may live on. If you should think me and Peg just a little left of plumb for holding my life celebration a little early or if you question the Church Board’s send off of the old building with love instead of a garage sale, I respectfully suggest life’s best work and best times occur when we are just a little crazy.
Why are so many people on all sides so angry about the United States Supreme Court life-time appointment? The answer may be in the question: it is an appointment and it is for life.
The true genius of the Founding Fathers was they understood power corrupts and since human beings constantly seek power it must be diffused into three branches of government. What they did not anticipate was that the Supreme Court, the Judicial Branch, would slyly usurp the power of the Executive and Legislative branches, starting with Chief Justice John Marshall and the case of Marbury versus Madison in 1803 in which the Supreme Court declared it had the power to review and invalidate or validate decisions of the other Branches.
This power of review established an inequality among the three Branches that has grown to a crisis. Where the Judicial leg of the stool has neither power of the purse nor the gun, this power of review protrudes causing an imbalance. This is exacerbated by the appointment of the justices and the manner in which the appointments are made. They are appointed for life by one person, the President, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, i.e., one hundred more people.
Whereas the public has the right to vote for the President and each member of Congress, the public is shut out of choosing the extraordinarily powerful people in the Judicial Branch. This causes great concern for contesting groups when such personal issues as health care, police powers, control of one’s body, and distribution of tax monies may work their way from the legislative and executive bodies to the courts. For it is more true today than ever that as the visiting French philosopher and tourist Alexis de Tocqueville declared in 1835: in America, eventually every political question becomes a judicial one.
With the President, every four years we can make a change. With members of the House of Representatives, every two years the entire House can be changed and with the Senate, if we wish, in six years we can choose someone else. That is the crux of why people are so desperate to influence the choice of a Supreme Court Justice, i.e., it is not a choice made by them and it is for life.
It seems to me a rational solution is to change how we select our federal judges. Of course, I think all judges at all levels should be elected in a modified non-partisan election, but today we are just addressing the federal food fight that embarrasses and endangers us all. I suggest we put any future Supreme Court replacement on the ballot and limit their term. Of course, this will require amending the Constitution, but the Constitution has been amended many times before. Power to the People, not the politicians, is worth considering and worth the trouble it will take to make the change.
If CNN, MSNBC and FOX News were covering the entertainments in the Roman Coliseum in the First Century they would have been exhorting the lions. Of course, the reason for this is the ratings would suffer if they sided with the humans. The public demands spectacle, not fairness.
Or as Mark Twain opined: “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives”. Pudd’nhead Wilson, Chapter VII.
In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 3, scene 3, Iago complains: “Who steals my purse steals trash …[But] who filches from me my good name robs me of that which (does not) enrich him [but] makes me poor indeed”.
Our current spectacle steals from both accused and accuser equally. When it comes time to clear the floor of the Congressional Coliseum no one will remain unscathed and we will all be poorer. Rome today is a decaying tourist amusement. The days of roads, aqueducts, legal systems and Pax Romana declined with the declining investment of the citizenry in self-government. Today we would have to include the national media in this equation.
It is not that we do not know how to reasonably go about choosing our leaders such as presidents, legislators and supreme court justices, it is that it is a lot more fun to watch others being ripped apart than to engage in rational debate. Bring on the lions, we are bored with this democracy thing!
When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University I wavered between majoring in English or Psychology. I ultimately concluded a life spent seeking answers to life’s mysteries from mice running mazes held less promise than one trying to find wisdom hidden in the words of pundits. Over the years since college I have often questioned my choice. The current hollow clanging of brass over Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford is only the most recent struggle of yin and yang between my two choices.
Attempted rape is a terrible crime and a false accusation of attempted rape is a terrible tragedy. Both can result in a life sentence of anger, fear, frustration and loss of control. And loss of personal control is the true source of the pain caused by either circumstance. Psychologists have cautioned parents for years to avoid pinning a child down. Such behavior can result in lifelong fear and angst.
And it does not take a psychiatrist to explain how being falsely accused can permanently damage a person. Most humans have been or will be falsely accused of something and can relate to the frustration of trying to disprove a negative. Such an unfortunate circumstance is made worse the greater the false accusation is spread. Of course, it is just as debilitating to be injured and to have one’s complaint ignored or disbelieved.
Unfortunately, Dr. Blasey-Ford and Judge Kavanaugh have become casualties of people who have convinced themselves that the greater good of controlling the U.S. Supreme Court overcomes any concern about destroying lives along the way. Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh are just two white mice trapped in a maze of self-righteousness. We have seen this experiment before and will surely see it again.
Freedom of Speech is a good thing. That includes the “right” to lie and disparage anonymously. Cross examination is recognized in legal matters as the greatest engine of truth. It is just as much a Constitutional Right as Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects one’s right to speak and the Sixth Amendment protects the right to “confront one’s accusers”, i.e. to cross examine them, in criminal cases. Indiana’s Constitution guarantees both Freedom of Speech and “Face to Face” cross examination. It is clear that those who founded both our state and our country considered both rights sacred.
However, as with much of life and law the devil is in the details when particular situations that implicate conflicting Constitutional Rights must be addressed. If CNN and MSNBC want to proclaim President Trump a pariah while FOX News proclaims him a messiah both positions are constitutionally protected even if they might cite to anonymous sources to do so. So, how do those who disagree with either position exercise the right of cross examination. Well, they don’t. Private citizens and non-governmental entities are perfectly within their rights to cite or even make up anonymous sources.
When the government wants to use Confidential Informants in criminal cases to seek an arrest or search warrant, the police officer or Prosecuting Attorney must, under oath, set forth facts whereby the reviewing Judge or Magistrate can determine a C.I.’s information is credible. Such things as the ability and opportunity to observe are essential considerations. And, even if the Judge grants the request for a warrant, when a case is filed the Court has the authority to order the disclosure of a C.I.’s identity so that a person who is charged may cross examine the C.I. or have the case thrown out.
This protection of the truth is not available in the civil area nor should it be. If a media outlet wants to lie or make up sources the outlet might be sued but the government should not be allowed to squelch free speech. On the other hand, those of us who are inundated with a constant barrage of personal invective described by the media as “news” owe it to ourselves and our country to demand that news organizations disclose “anonymous sources” or, at least thoroughly vet them and set out the vetting process along with the source’s bona fides so we can judge for ourselves.
Law enforcement agencies often rely on Confidential Informants to investigate criminal matters. Many times crimes cannot be solved if those who commit the crimes or those they voluntarily tell about the crimes do not talk to the police. It is a truism that it is hard to catch a fish that does not open its mouth.
As long as the police are simply investigating a crime there is no reason why “anonymous sources” should not be mined for information. However, once a law enforcement agency decides to ask a judge for permission to arrest someone or search someone’s home or business, the basis for the judge to determine probable cause must comport with Constitutional standards. And there are both the U.S. Constitution and the Indiana Constitution to consider.
No longer can “anonymous sources” be cited as a basis for probable cause but Confidential Informants may be used as long as the police support the C.I.’s ability to actually know the evidence attributed to them by setting out the facts establishing the C.I.’s ability and opportunity to observe or know of the crime in question.
And if the case goes to court the C.I.’s identity may be ordered disclosed by a judge. In other words, a C.I. must be an actual person who truly had direct knowledge of the crime and the involvement of the defendant who was arrested or whose premises were searched. In my experience as a prosecuting attorney for seven years, a practicing attorney, and a judge for thirty-eight years, when a law enforcement officer cites to a Confidential Informant such a person has almost always been shown to actually exist when required to be divulged by a Court.
Unfortunately, there have been a very few times that a C.I. was created by an officer who let the “ends justify the means”. When such failures occur we all lose because the system of justice is not just. Of course, these bad acts are only disclosed because a court of law can be asked to force the police to disclose the C.I. If there were no oversight of these activities, people could be unjustly convicted and we would all lose because we would lose faith in the legal system. Then even when the officers acted strictly in compliance with the Constitution we might not believe them.
That is the danger of “anonymous sources”. If there is no mechanism to determine if such people truly exist or are simply the figment of a writer’s desire to advance an agenda, the public may lose faith in all reports.