Skip to comments.Reagan-appointed judge has words for Ashcroft
Posted on 07/15/2002 8:25:01 AM PDT by count me in
If he can spare a few hours from announcing new restrictions on civil liberties, Attorney General John Ashcroft might stop by to hear one of Ronald Reagan's best judicial appointees.
Ashcroft doesn't do much listening, but U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, in his annual address to Western Washington University's Munro Teachers Seminar, might have set him straight on a fundamental truth that has escaped our nation's chief law enforcement officer.
"The Constitution of the United States says what it means and means what it says" is a basic mantra to Coughenour, the chief federal judge for Western Washington.
Coughenour has had occasion to repeat those words, not only at Western but when FBI chief Robert Mueller suggested to him in a conversation that security has supplanted civil liberties concerns in post-9/11 America.
Protestations of a liberal judge?
Jack Coughenour is one of Republican former Sen. Slade Gorton's closest friends. He was Reagan's first nominee to the federal bench in these parts. His screener at the Justice Department was Ted Olson, who is now U.S. solicitor general.
He is, as well, renowned as a no-nonsense courtroom disciplinarian.
Woe be unto any attorney who arrives late in Coughenour's courtroom. Or any male barrister who does not don a coat and tie, even for the briefest status conference. Or who dares plunk a briefcase on top of the judge's desk.
But it's not hard to see how President Bush's we-are-at-war policies could alarm a stickler for procedure and believer in the rule of law. Or one who concurs, as the late Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan put it, "The Constitution is absolute."
Overriding constitutional guarantees, and daring federal courts to do anything about it, is Bush's battle strategy.
In particular, Coughenour cites the case of Jose Padilla, the one-time Chicago street criminal arrested entering the United States in May and alleged to be in the initial stages of what Ashcroft called a plot to set off "dirty" radioactive bombs.
Padilla has not been charged with a crime. He is being held as an "enemy combatant." Ashcroft claims the government can keep people sitting indefinitely in military brigs, without charge and no access to counsel.
"Mr. Padilla is an American citizen," Coughenour said. "He is before a military tribunal. This is unprecedented."
In 1942, the FBI apprehended German saboteurs landed by submarine on Long Island with the assignment of disrupting American war industries. One turned out to be an American patriot, who turned in his cohorts. The German saboteurs were eventually executed.
They were enemy combatants in every sense of the word. They had a specific mission. Seven were German citizens. The U.S. Congress had officially declared war on the Third Reich.
Does prosecution of this war on terror require running roughshod over our Founders' rules of civil society? Does it make sense to do so?
Judiciously, Coughenour raised these questions Friday before the Munro Seminar (which was taped by TVW and will be broadcast statewide).
In 21 years on the bench, the judge said, what he's come to appreciate most about the American government is the First Amendment -- guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly -- as well as the right of a defendant to face a jury of his or her peers.
"The commitment to a jury trial -- the idea of putting ordinary citizens between the accused and their government -- is a rather extraordinary thing: It is not universal," Coughenour said.
"What it means is: The government cannot send someone to jail unless 12 ordinary people say, 'The government got it right.'"
Under Bush's rules of detention, the government doesn't have to get it right. Or disclose its evidence. Or even charge someone with a crime.
With Ashcroft questioning the patriotism of anyone who questions him, the administration appears to be getting its way.
Friday, a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed a district court judge's ruling that the "Sec- ond American Taliban," a young man born in Louisiana to Saudi parents, had a right to an attorney.
The appellate judges did stop short of approving the Justice Department's sweeping claim that the president has an absolute right to decide who is an unlawful combatant, and that the courts should butt out. They sent the case back to district court for consideration.
The 4th Circuit panel noted, however, that the Supreme Court has shown great deference to the federal government in deciding matters of national security.
Egregious, needless violations of individual rights have stemmed from that premise. Just remember those 1942 pictures of Japanese Americans on the dock at Bainbridge Island, their internment in remote camps upheld by the Supremes.
The basics of American democracy -- the right to trial, the right to counsel, the rule of law -- need defenders these days.
A man put on the bench by Republicans, Coughenour wonders when Congress' loyal opposition will find a voice.
"In my view, the Democratic Party has a responsibility to speak up on these issues," he said. "It isn't happening. Why aren't they speaking out? I don't understand it."
Not words of a liberal.
Coughenour: "Padilla... is before a military tribunal"
No he isn't.
Mr. Padilla is a foreign agent of influence. Mr. Padilla is a threat to national security. Mr. Padilla foreswore his "rights" as soon as he decided that a leader of a radical form of Islam located in another country was his man.
I have no sympathy, none whatsoever. This ain't a carjacking, you judicial idiot.
Who? There is nobody by that name. There are some Islamic names that I've heard that are attached to a terrorist who lived in Florida, but this Padilla person ceased to exist some time ago.
Unfortunately, it's now very clear that we do not have a robust, engaged democracy. Our politics have become stagnant and listless, as both parties are now hellbent on giving more power to the federal government, rather than existing to keep the feds in continual check.
Fact of the matter is, we've now had two presidential administrations back-to-back that don't give a flying rat's butt about the Constitution, and very few people of our elected officials really mind that it's happening. The judge is right: the Constitution means what it says, to hell with "expert" interpretation.
You know, I'm going to do a search on this judge. Reagan-appointed or not, I suspect that his affinity for the Democratic party is not newly-minted.
If "[t]he Constitution of the United States says what it means and means what it says", then why is it under constant assault by judicial activists?
Why is the Second Amendment treated differently than the First?
How is it that the "law" has seen fit to allow a mother to kill her unborn child for any reason, just cause she "chooses" to? What about the rights of the child? The law sees fit that the unborn child has a claim that can be made against the father? But, the unborn child doesn't have a right to live? If the constitutions has granted that a mother has a right to choice, doesn't the father too?
Where is this judge and his retort when it comes to these issues?
If the Constitution says what it means and means what it says, why aren't you out fighting the liberals who are actively (EVERY FRIGGIN' DAY) seeking the destruction of it? You know, if you are going to critcize the AG, why not criticize some other cupable people...Clinton, Dasshole, Gephardt, and the other socialist who have enabled our enemies to attack us? Just think, Mr. Wizard, if these A-HOLES would have done their job, instead of lined their pockets, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion!
However it's more likely that he gave a speech defending the role of the Judiciary in times of crisis and the author picked out a very few excerpts that he could twist to make the judge sound that way.
The big clue, to me, is the paucity of actual quotes.
Here's a Real Audio of the speech, I couldn't find a transcript: HERE
Bravo Judge Coughenour. If any of you think that Judge Coughenour is a liberal then you don't understand what a Conservative is. The point the Judge is making with regards to the Democrats is valid. The Republicans are not going to voice objection. Even the most strident Republican Attorneys are having a problem defending this policy of detention without due process. But very few are focused on the Constitutional implications. That alone should alarm everyone. Again this is easily solved. Allow the Military to try both Foreigners and Americans with regards to these cases.
In fact, the only "conservative" case I can find is where he ruled TCI cablevision can censor things that are placed on its cable system.
Here's a great quote: Coughenour was appointed to the federal bench by conservative president Ronald Reagan in 1981. But he hold's some decidedly liberal views for an American judge. He's perturbed by "the insanity of our gun laws." He is an admirer of Canada's rehabilitative justice system.
Fact is, any fair judge is likely to come out on the left side of an issue once in a while and based on cursory reading, I'd agree with 1-4. But this guy is a 100% liberal who has some problems with his own conscience, IMHO.
The date of the article: July 18, 2001