This Week

Issue: "Justice to the Chief," Jan. 23, 1999

We're all on trial

On the eve of the Senate trial of President Clinton, why is that body, and the larger body politic, having such a difficult time with this case? It is because the moral plates that have supported our culture in times of stress-such as war and economic depression-are shifting. It is because words and actions no longer mean what they once meant. It is because so many are unwilling to judge the president's behavior, which they see as no worse than their own. And so we have this point of tension. The past tugs at us like Marley's ghost, pleading eternal principles, while many in the land of "do your own thing" tug in the direction of materialism and self-focus. When the news of what Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton did was revealed a year ago, ABC's Sam Donaldson, voicing a morality that is either past or quickly becoming obsolete, predicted that Mr. Clinton would be a goner "in days" and certainly by the end of that week. His prediction was wrong because the Clinton crowd argued that what the president did was no big deal. To say that Bill Clinton should be held accountable and removed from office is to acknowledge that their own attitudes about extramarital sex, lying, and inattention to personal and national character are a big deal. So, the Senate is caught between a rock (moral and constitutional law) and a soft place (the mushy thinking of people who believe feelings trump justice). While the question of whether witnesses will be called has been delayed until the end of the month (and they should be called, as in any trial), history, honor, justice, and the law wait on the sidelines like the wallflower at the school dance. The Senate trial is as much about us and our honor as it is about the president and his dishonor. Who will be found wanting as he, and we, are weighed in the balance?
-Cal Thomas, © 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Citing the wrong text?

A child molester remains free because the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to reinstate his sentence. Reason: The sentencing judge quoted Scripture before imposing his prison sentence. The justices let stand a state court's ruling that the judge's behavior violated due process. Aaron Pattno plead guilty two years ago to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy. Court records indicate that the 25-year-old pederast had been romantically involved with the adolescent for some time. So when Sarpy County District Judge George Thompson sentenced him to serve 20 months to five years in prison, he quoted several verses from the first chapter of Romans: "Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." When Mr. Pattno appealed, the Nebraska Supreme Court said the text "was not relevant to the crime," since sexual contact between consenting males is not a crime in Nebraska. Therefore, since the Pattno crime was sexual contact with a minor, not homosexuality, the state Supreme Court ruled that the judge had erred. State prosecutors said religious freedom was threatened and took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Judicial reference to the Bible does not violate due process where the evidence in the record supports the sentence imposed," Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg argued before the justices, stating that Judge Thompson's sentence should not have been set aside.

Love your Mumia

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As convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal still sits on death row, his radical chic cult following goes on. But in Oakland, public school teachers held a teach-in, even after complaints that it was too political, even by 1999 public school standards. Oakland teachers helped organize the teach-in as a consciousness-raising exercise-and won the backing of the teachers' union. School Board President Noel Gallo asked that the event be canceled. He said the event put ideology "ahead of basic education for our children and there's no wonder why our test scores are so poor." Even the local NAACP criticized the event. Mr. Abu-Jamal was an ex-Black Panther member convicted in 1981 of killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. His backers say he was framed. But the former Wesley Cooke was no ordinary thug; he was the former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. His commentaries were carried on public radio. And the "Free Mumia" movement is getting a new batch of free publicity just outside New York City. Rage Against The Machine will hold a benefit concert at the Meadowlands on Jan. 28.

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