Monday, March 10, 2008

Context: They're Ba-ack! The Ghosts of Diggs and Caminetti

The New York Times reports that Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel. Spitzer made a brief public appearance this afternoon, but did not resign. Instead, he said politics was not about "individuals" and described the affair as a “private matter” that violated his "obligations" to his family. But the story clearly has legs and he may not be in that position much longer. The Times notes Federal prosecutors rarely charge clients in prostitution cases, but the Mann Act (1910) made it a crime to transport someone between states for the purpose of prostitution. The Times would have been more thorough to also add, "debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose."

Students of constitutional law will recognize/remember the Mann Act as the focus of a classic U.S. Supreme Court case, Caminetti v. U.S. (1917), and one of those ultra-spectacular, scandal-ridden "trials of the century!" Clinton prosecutors had their blue dress, but Caminetti's prosecutors had a bloody sheet! On the other hand, Con Law students may not be aware of the fact that Andrew Caminetti (the son of a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives) and his street-running side-kick Maury Diggs (the son of a California Democratic state senator) and were both very quietly (actually very, very quietly) pardoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Don't expect to read about that in your Con Law text any time soon.

Should Gov. Spitzer be convicted (of anything), he stands a much-better-than-average chance of also benefiting from a presidential pardon - the irony being that, as governor, he has been notoriously stingy with the clemency power. Well, actually, there is another, even greater irony: Spitzer is on record as supporting a presidential pardon for long-since deceased boxing legend Jack Johnson, who was also convicted for ... violating the Mann Act! Kinda has that feel of Bill Clinton pardoning all of those individuals for lying under oath and making false statements to government agents, doesn't it?

Why might Spitzer be pardoned? Because 1) former governors in legal trouble have a pretty darn good record for such and 2) it appears likely to many that the next president will be a fellow Democrat. Spitzer is, after all, one of those ever-so-popular "Superdelegates." Either way, he will probably not be treated in the manner suggested by one South Carolina Senator who, back in the day, recommended that Diggs and Caminetti be "shot like dogs." So, it may be one more addition for our Presidential Pardon "Watch List". See today's Times article here.

NOTE: Spitzer assumed office in January of 2007 and pardoned no one until the month of December. His first pardon was granted to an individual who had been released from custody ten years earlier. This came as an exceptional disappointment to those who remembered that he campaigned on a promise to reform drug sentencing laws. One report (here) claims that, at the time of the first pardon, there were over 300 individuals who had applied and qualified for commutations.

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