America's federal judiciary: The best 'just us' money can buy

By David Hoffman

Anyone who enrolls in an American law school usually encounters two types of students:  those who are self-serving, opportunistic, (and sometimes sociopathic), and thus view their legal education as a pathway to financial prosperity and/or a means to acquire power over their fellow human beings; and those who are idealists and hope to use the law to combat injustice and remedy social wrongs.

 In fairness, many of these idealists are not completely altruistic, because the causes they desire to advocate will oftentimes benefit them personally.  But if they are successful, their advocacy will benefit others as well.

Yet, far too often, once these idealistic students leave the classroom world of lectures, final exams, and scholarly debates to enter the legal profession, they are confronted by four harsh realities:

1.    America's legal system will work harder to permit, promote, and perpetuate injustice and cover up the truth than it will to permit, promote, and perpetuate justice and reveal the truth;

2.    Property rights will always trump human rights;

3.    The Constitution of the United States, especially the Bill of Rights, is little more than a nuisance that judges routinely dismiss or ignore whenever it interferes with their personal biases, interests, or political agendas;

4.    There is oftentimes little difference between criminals who break the law and the police, prosecutors, and judges who supposedly enforce it, because all of them routinely use specious rationalizations to justify their hypocrisy, mendacity, corruption, and/or criminality.

For example, the late comedian Richard Pryor once told of an encounter he had with an inmate while working on the movie Stir Crazy.  This inmate had killed an entire family during the course of a burglary, and when Pryor asked why, he replied, "They was [sic] home."  And when famous (or perhaps infamous) bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he answered, "That's where the money is."

The fundamental difference between those who operate outside the law and those who supposedly serve and/or are protected by it is that prosecutors, judges, and juries will routinely reject the specious rationalizations of the former, yet not hesitate to embrace the specious rationalizations of the latter, even when they engage in outrageous conduct and/or do as much, or even more, harm than many criminals.

One example I've discussed in previous Pravda.Ru articles is the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA, sodomized, shackled, and subjected to sensory deprivation for several months before the agency realized it had kidnapped the wrong man.

But when he sought compensation in American courts for these atrocities, U.S. Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, dismissed his lawsuit, an injustice that was ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court. 

Another example is the case of Richard Alexander from South Bend, Indiana, who did not receive a penny in compensation even though he had been wrongfully imprisoned for more than five years.  According to the federal magistrate who dismissed his case, Alexander was not entitled to compensation because he could not prove he had been prosecuted in "bad faith"-a ludicrous legal rationalization that assumes the target of an investigation can, through some bizarre form of psychic osmosis, read the minds and motivations of the very people who are targeting him.

And, of course, this list would not be complete without citing yet another in the seemingly endless progression of sordid examples where juries have acquitted police officers who engaged in horrendous acts of excessive force.  This time the victim was a homeless man named Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by members of the Fullerton, California police department. 

I use this example not only to remind people of the depravity of this verdict, but also because this horrific tragedy compelled Thomas's father to succinctly express the very disillusionment many idealistic law students are destined to discover:  "I don't believe in the system.  How could the jury come back with not guilty, not even excessive force at a minimum?  I don't believe in anything right now."

When this disillusionment arises, once idealistic attorneys are usually left with two difficult choices:  they can either leave the legal profession altogether and attempt to utilize their law degrees to enter other professions-an often unappealing choice for those burdened with high student loan debt, because many of these alternative professions do not pay very well-or they can hold their noses to block the stench, numb their consciences, enter the courtroom with no hope of finding justice, mechanically go through the motions, collect their fees, and move on to their next client. Although this would be easy for self-serving opportunists, idealists may, over time, find it increasingly difficult to look at themselves in the mirror.

In reality, it is difficult for anyone to have faith in America's legal system today when the so-called "war on terror" is incessantly being used as an excuse to decimate the Bill of Rights; when John Yoo, one of the architects of the infamous torture memos that have contributed to this decimation, now teaches law classes at the University of California at Berkeley; when another architect of these memos, Jay Bybee, serves as a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; when three of Bybee's colleagues on the Ninth Circuit-Raymond C. Fisher, N. Randy Smith, and Rebecca R. Pallmeyer-were so eager to insulate  him and Yoo from any legal repercussions for these memos that they essentially gave  the United States government the power to torture its own citizens with impunity, simply by avoiding the use of the word "torture"; when federal judge Rosemary Collyer extended this power even further by giving the United States government the legal authority to extrajudicially execute its own citizens; and when five so-called "justices" on the United States Supreme Court are so reactionary that, according to an article by Geoffrey R. Stone in THE DAILY BEAST, they "consistently show no understanding  or concern for the interests of racial minorities, women, political dissenters, or religious minorities," yet consistently display unabashed empathy for "gun owners, corporations, billionaires, and those who oppose efforts to remedy past discrimination." 

And when you factor in their contempt for labor unions and workers' rights, it is not hard to understand why I said, in my recent Pravda.Ru article Boycott Wisconsin and Greece, New York (05/15/2014), that the only rights and interests these so-called "justices" care about are the "rights and interests of the minority of Americans who possess the majority of the money."

As I further stated in the Boycott article, this reality has been indelibly established in two recent Supreme Court decisions-Citizens United vs. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon vs. FEC (2014).  Since I discussed the specifics of these decisions in Boycott, I will not repeat them here.  Suffice it to say, however, that each of them immeasurably enhances the ability of billionaires to use their vast financial resources to influence and corrupt political elections and candidates.

While researching this article, I realized it was erroneous to limit my concerns about the corrupting influence of Citizens United and McCutcheon to elected politicians on the federal, state, and local levels of government.  Since they are required to run for office every few years, the constant demand for so-called "campaign contributions" and "endorsements" can be costly, even for billionaires.

Apparently the billionaires who appear to have benefited most from these two Supreme Court decisions-the right-wing Koch brothers-have also learned this lesson, and realized that it is less costly and more pragmatic to buy federal judges and Supreme Court justices who have lifetime tenure and thus can accede to their demands and desires for decades. 

So it was not surprising when The New York Times reported in a 2011 article that two of the so-called "justices" who voted in favor of Citizens United, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, had also appeared at "political retreats" sponsored by the Koch brothers.

Today, in Wisconsin, we are witnessing the power of this corruption in all its splendor, as well as the depths that the political puppets of the Koch brothers will sink to protect and cover for one another.

One such puppet is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who, during his anti-labor crusade, was duped into answering a prank telephone call that he believed was being made by one of the Koch brothers.

Apparently another such puppet is federal judge Rudolph T. Randa, who recently halted an investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Walker's political campaign and outside interest groups during a recall election.  Many looked askance at Randa's ruling, especially since his wife and his judicial assistant's husband both had financial ties to Walker's campaign.

Shortly after my Boycott article was written, The Progressive (05/27/2014), citing an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy , reported that, like Scalia and Thomas, Randa had also attended "judicial junkets" funded by the Koch brothers, and that the Kochs had also provided funding to the group Wisconsin Club for Growth-the very group that filed the lawsuit asking Randa to halt the Walker investigation.

According to The Progressive, these "junkets" were basically "privately-funded, all expenses paid trips for judges" with corporate sponsors paying for "flights, hotel rooms, and meals." 

One advantage of being a judge is the ability to define the parameters of a law.  So naturally, Scalia and Thomas, along with John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy, built into the McCutcheon decision-a decision heavily relied upon by Randa-a very narrow definition of corruption.

Using the specious rationalization technique I've previously discussed in this article, the Supreme Court determined that the only type of corruption prohibited by Citizens United and McCutcheon is "quid pro quo" corruption, where an individual directly bribes a politician or judge in exchange for specific favors or rulings.  This, of course, means that when money is given indirectly, no corruption exists.

It isn't difficult to foresee the ramifications of this limited definition.  For example, although it may be illegal to directly bribe a judge for a favorable ruling by offering him/her money to purchase a trip to Europe, all that individuals or organizations need to do to achieve the same result is pay for the ticket and accommodations themselves, then "sponsor" the judge's trip to a European "judicial conference."

For far too long people have naively believed that federal judges and "justices" were immune to corruption.  It's time to recognize that, thanks to their lifetime tenures and ability to manipulate the law, they are the ones most susceptible to it.

In fact, in yet another sordid display of the "just us" mentality and ethical vacuity of America's federal judiciary, an appeals court recently upheld Randa's ruling. 

Will anything be done about this growing judicial corruption?  It is doubtful, because the ones who are supposed to be combating it are also the ones benefiting from it.

Walls in courthouses across the United States are often inscribed with platitudes about "truth" and "justice."  But, for the millions of Americans who can now be tortured and extrajudicially executed by their own government and whose rights, interests, and beliefs are no longer relevant to the federal judiciary, perhaps a new inscription would be more fitting. 

Like the words Dante imagined on the gates of Hell:  "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

David R. Hoffman

Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru

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Author`s name David R. Hoffman