Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The President: Judge Walton on Libby

When U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton disagreed with the probation office's sentencing recommendations and denied Scooter Libby's request to remain free during appeals, he brought on President Bush's commutation of Libby's 2 1/2 year prison sentence (the $250,000 fine, felony conviction and probation remained). Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald complained about Bush's use of the pardon power immediately.

Judge Walton has waited until now to express his opinion. He believes the president "has that authority" (the power to grant commutations), that the President "exercised it, and that that has to be respected." But Walton appears to have little respect for the President's decision making otherwise.

For example, Walton expresses the time-worn, boiler-plate concern that "there are a lot of people in America who think that justice is determined to a large degree by who you are and that what you have plays a large role in what kind of justice you receive." Of course, these perceptions are also present with respect to thinking about the recruitment process for federal judges, like Walton. What is more, political scientist John R. Schmidhauser, in his book Judges and Justices, has well-documented the validity of these perceptions. Now, what are we to do? Impeach 90 percent of the federal judiciary?

Judge Walton is also concerned about an oncoming rash of criminal activity since, people "won't follow" the law if they do not "respect it." I have not seen the data on the validity of this concern/predicted increase as of yet, and the commutation was granted last July. But I suspect the expressed concern/prediction is about as valid as the expressed concerns/predictions that the President's critics had with respect to so-called "Libby Motions" (see commentary here, here, here, here, and here).

Finally, Judge Walton is also proud of the fact that he does not give white-collar criminals "a pass." The irony here, of course, is that it is perfectly reasonable to guess that Libby's social status is what got him into federal court to begin with. That us to say, his background, "privileged" status and "contacts" were not the source of an advantage. They were a distinct liability!

Regardless, one hopes Judge Walton is not simply ignoring the considered recommendations of other sentencing authorities and over-sentencing white collar criminals so as to appear to be a "tough" guy. Most of the President's critics agree that we really don't need any more of that in the federal judiciary. See story here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, Fitzgerald did not complain about the pardon. He released a statement acknowledging that a pardon was within the president's powers.

Liberals had hoped he WOULD complain. He never did.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P.S. Ruckman, Jr. said...

Editor - Look, if you mean to say that Patrick Fitzgerald did not complain as much as some "liberals" may have wanted him to, or that he could have acted in a more unprofessional manner, then I can hardly disagree with that. But here is a portion of the statement that he released immediately following Bush's commutation:

We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as “excessive.” The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing ...

The statement is clearly condescending, defensive and accusatory. It is not a stoic recognition of presidential powers, as you suggest. It is clearly a complaint and much more than merely "acknowledging" checks and balances in our system. I think the timing of the statement (again, right after the commutation) also defeats your interpretation as well. Best,

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