Jewish World Review April 12, 2001 / 19 Nissan, 5761
COURTS are supposed to be arbiters of genuine legal disputes, not weapons for partisan politicians to punish their opponents. It is time to start demanding accountability from politicians who exploit the legal system for base political ends.
One of the primary reasons I wrote "Absolute Power." was to illustrate the damage to our republic that occurs when public officials abuse their sacred trust to honor the Constitution and the rule of law.
Respecting the system means that the heads of the executive branch will dutifully enforce the law, not place themselves above the law; respect the constitutional rights of others --- even those with whom they radically disagree; operate within their proper spheres of authority in deference to the Separation of Powers Doctrine; refrain from abusing the judicial process for political ends; and not commit felonies themselves.
The Clinton administration, aided by Reno's Justice Department, grossly violated every one of these tenets. Let's just look at one of them, perversion of the courts and the judicial process, and consider a few of the most egregious examples.
Clinton browbeat the Justice Department into reversing its position not to bring a civil suit against the tobacco companies to recover medical expenses the government incurred on behalf of people with tobacco-related illnesses. Some two and a half years after announcing on the public record that the Justice Department had no jurisdiction to bring such an action, Reno filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the industry.
Clinton, with Reno's assistance, filed phony privilege claims (executive privilege, attorney-client privilege and protective function -- Secret Service privilege) to obstruct the judicial process and stonewall the independent counsel's investigation. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly confessed privately that the Justice Department had less than a 5 percent chance of prevailing in appellate court in seeking to establish a privilege to prevent Secret Service agents from testifying. Yet, Clinton and the Justice Department doggedly pursued the matter anyway.
While the executive branch has a particular duty not to use the courts to effectuate legislative policy or to achieve political ends, so does the legislative branch. Indeed, all elected officials have an even higher duty than ordinary citizens to respect the integrity of our legal system and not to allow it to be politicized.
Yet about a year ago, Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, filed a lawsuit against Majority Whip Tom Delay accusing him of racketeering in connection with his fund-raising for three conservative organizations. It stretches credulity to conceive that Kennedy believed there was any merit to his lawsuit or that Congress intended for the racketeering (RICO) statutes to be used for such purposes. Even some of Kennedy's Democratic colleagues criticized his abuse of process. Kennedy's purpose was to neuter Delay as a fund-raising dynamo.
Well, last week, just a few weeks before the baseless trial was scheduled to proceed, Kennedy voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Just like President Clinton asserted, then withdrew his baseless executive privilege claims after they had served his purposes of obstructing investigations, Kennedy abandoned his action. In case you have any doubt about Kennedy's motives in bringing the suit, some of his colleagues confessed that the case accomplished its intended effect of undermining Delay's fund-raising efforts.
Bill Clinton, as the nation's chief law enforcement official, set an example of flagrant disrespect for the law. Aside from a few exceptions, he acted with impunity as he trampled our legal system and defamed reputable officials who were operating lawfully within it.
Though Clinton was held in contempt of court and ultimately surrendered his law license for five years, he skated on the most heinous of his abuses. Among a plethora of other things, he has never paid for his unforgivable assaults on Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and Linda Tripp.
Litigants and their lawyers are routinely sanctioned by courts for abusing the judicial process in ways that pale in comparison to Clinton's and Patrick Kennedy's excesses.
Because the Kennedy case was dismissed as a result of an agreement between the two parties, sanctions probably are not available as a remedy. But unless we want the Clinton model of disrespect for the legal system to prevail, we must be mindful of these abuses and condemn those who commit them. If their actions go unpunished and unreported, we should expect more of the
David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney apracticing in Cape
Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released
exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice
Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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