Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Founders v. Rick Perry's Irresponsible Rhetoric

In the Federalist papers, notable liberal socialist softy Alexander Hamilton (who was exceptionally angry that George Washington and John Adams did not hang participants in the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries's Rebellion respectively) expressed concern for those who were "unfortunate" enough to be found guilty in our criminal justice system. Hamilton suggested that "exceptions" be made. Indeed, he argued that there should be "easy access" to mercy for such persons because of the tendency for laws to become "sanguinary and cruel." But this particular Founding Father did not deem these views as the simple by-product of mushy concern "humanity." No, in Alexander Hamilton's mind, it was "good policy."

Now, compare Mr. Hamilton's thoughts with the intentional rhetorical self-stylings of Texas Governor Rick Perry. The New Statesman notes that, in his 11 years as Governor, Perry has overseen 234 executions and has commuted three death sentences. Technically, Perry has commuted other death sentences, but only in response to a court order. But his general description of his record in these matters is as follows:
"If you don't support the death penalty ... don't come to Texas."
Toss in Perry's veto of legislation that would have spared the mentally retarded and his criticism of Supreme Court rulings which have spared juveniles and, well, you might conclude that - despite all of his talk about the Founders, and the system of government that they created for us, that he is so very anxious to preserve - Rick Perry is no Alexander Hamilton!

In other instances, Perry assigns the atrophy of the clemency powers in his State to his considered wisdom. No, he will not second-guess judges and juries. Their decision making should be left alone. Which is really great stuff but for the great American traditions of separation of powers and checks and balances. Shall we suppose the Founding Fathers and respective State leaders placed the pardon power in the hands of the executive with the intent that the power be abdicated, especially in difficult cases?

Just what nonsense is Rick Perry trying to sell us anyway? That legislatures are perfect? That laws never have any unintended consequences? That judges and juries are always flawless? That the only relevant information to be considered before the execution of a human being is that narrow patch of information allowed by the technicalities of the rules of evidence that just happened to be revealed at trial? That people cannot change? That people do not change? From what Founding Father(s) does he get these ideas?

But wait! Red alert! Perry has no absolute pardon power! There is an 18-member Board of Pardons in Texas that he must work with. The only absolute power he has is the mere power to delay an execution 30 days! There are, perhaps, only 9 layers of problems with this "argument."

First, consider what we noted in December of last year: By that point, Perry had granted granted a mere 180 pardons since 2001. By comparison, former Governor Mark White (D) granted almost 500 and former Governor Bill Clements (R) granted more than 800. At that point, we also knew that the Sate's Board of Pardons and Paroles had recommended clemency to Perry in more than 530 cases! Indeed, in  2010, the Board recommended 41 clemency applications to Perry, and he rejected 80 percent of them.

It's perfectly clear, and has been for some time: Rick Perry has a particular attitude about clemency, mercy and pardon.

Perhaps death penalty cases are different. Fine. Why doesn't Perry delay executions more often? Why do his appointees to that Board (which does not actually meet, or hold regular hearings) seem to have such little regard for the clemency power in death penalty cases? Why don't his choices for the Board bring about change? Why doesn't Perry condemn, or at least complain, about them? Why is he so satisfied to make the wrong impression, if that is in fact what he is doing?

See Statesman article here.

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