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Howard Dean’s Constitutional Hang-up

As Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean openly claimed that the legal system unfairly benefited criminal defendants over prosecutors. He even took measures to cut federal grant money aimed at helping mentally disabled defendants–as well as appointing state judges who were willing to undermine the Bill of Rights. In a 1997 interview with the Vermont News Bureau, Howard Dean admitted his desire to expedite the judicial process by using such justices to “quickly convict guilty criminals.” He wanted individuals that would deem “common sense more important than legal technicalities.” Constitutional protections (legal technicalities) apparently undermine Dean’s yearning for speedy trials.

Perhaps he was looking to make Vermont more like George Bush’s Texas, where defense lawyers are renowned for lacking the resources necessary to provide their clients a fair representation.

Several of Dean’s judicial appointments are now awaiting hearings before the United States Second Circuit Court in New York City. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression (www.tjcenter.org) and two other law firms have filed briefs against these justices. They are being accused of violating a number of federal rights including; the First Amendment, Right to Counsel, Double Jeopardy, and Due Process.

Regarding one case where citizen reporter Scott Huminski was barred from Vermont courts, a DC lawyer stated in an interview with Eugenia Harris from the First Amendment Center that, “the real heart of the issue is whether local government officials can unilaterally silence speech and exert arbitrary power over their citizens.” Seems Howard Dean stuck by his word and appointed judges that care little about real “justice.” And he thinks he’s qualified to appoint justices at the federal level?

These are not the only examples of Howard Dean’s intentions to subdue the Bill of Rights. Shortly after the September 11th attacks Dean was quoted in the Rutland Herald claiming that the United States needs a “re-evaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liberties.”

Later when asked if he thought the Bill of Rights needed to be altered he said, “I think it is unlikely, but I frankly haven’t gotten that far I think our freedom is what they find so threatening, our freedom and the power that I think results from that freedom.”

So according to Dean since terrorists are after our sought after freedoms, we might consider scathing back certain liberties in order to decrease the threat of future strikes. John Ashcroft must be pleased.

There is more. On Meet the Press last June, when asked about his support for the death penalty by Tim Russert, Dean replied,

“So I just-life without parole, which we have which I actually got passed when I was lieutenant governor- the problem with life without parole is that people get out for reasons that have nothing to do with justice. We had a case where a guy who was a rapist, a serial sex offender, was convicted, then was let out on what I would think and believe was a technicality, a new trial was ordered and the victim wouldn’t come back and go through the second trial.”

A “technicality” to Dean must be synonymous with “Constitutional hang-up.” In the case Dean presented to Russert, a man walked free, but should have been put to death instead of challenging his unconstitutional conviction. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen commented on Dean’s statement saying that, “I have never heard a politician admit that he would countenance the death of an innocent person in order to ensure that the guilty die.”

Dean’s attempts to weaken the Bill of Rights began in the 1990s with his appointments of justices now awaiting hearings in New York for egregious infringements on civil liberties. He then took it a step further after September 11th and indicated the “re-evaluation” of constitutional rights was in order. And now, as Dean steams ahead in his bid for the White House, he’s claiming on national television that he would rather have an innocent convict die than have them released on a “technicality.”

If elected will Dean attempt to make the United State’s a country in which citizens have access to neither a fair trial, nor adequate counsel? A country where constitutional rights are viewed as “technicalities,” worthy of death?

Time to start asking some serious questions.

-thanks to Scott Huminski for research support

JOSH FRANK can be reached at: frank@counterpunch.org.

 

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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