Impeach Judge Polster

News from last week:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio announced that on Friday 16 defendants were sentenced on hate crime charges growing out of a series of assaults on members of a rival Amish group in which the victims’  hair or beards were cut. (See prior posting.) As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bergholz Amish bishop Samuel Mullet received a 15 year sentence. Other defendants received sentences ranging from 7 years to just over one year. In imposing the sentences, federal district judge Dan Aaron Polster told the defendants:

Each and every one of you did more than terrorize, traumatize and disfigure the victims. You trampled on the Constitution.

(Religion Clause; emphasis added)

First, let me preemptively deny what a casual reader might suspect:

  • I’m not saying that bishop Samuel Mullet isn’t the mastermind of the attacks on completing Amish groups.
  • I’m not denying that the attacks were meant to humiliate, intimidate and to deprive the victims of an outward sign of their religious identity.
  • I’m not saying that the “beard trimmings” and “haircuts” were not motivated by hatred for the competing Amish.
  • I’m not saying that bishop Mullet’s group isn’t a cult or that he isn’t dangerous.
  • I’m not saying that unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts shouldn’t be a crime or that they’re not crimes. They certainly are a form of criminal battery.
  • I’m not saying that 15 years is too long a sentence.

I now am saying that not one of the Defendants “trampled on the Constitution.”I am saying that the federal judge who said they did  sounds like a constitutional ignoramus or a motor-mouth, both of which disqualify him for a federal judgeship in my opinion. (I’m probably in a minority. In a world of Judge Judies, we seemingly want our judges to be tart-tongued purveyors of black-robed bread and circuses.)

The Constitution limits government. Got that?

As my constitutional law professor, the late Patrick Baude put it, “If the Pope of Rome, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the Rev. Billy Graham got together and engineered the assassination of the President because of some common religious animus, they would not thereby violate the Constitution.” The first amendment has no application whatever to what any church, priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society may do.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….

The Constitution limits government.

There are too may people already who fancy that a Church or pastor can violate the “separation of Church and state.” We don’t need Federal Judges pouring gasoline on that fire.

Federal prosecutors argued that bishop Mullet should get a life sentence. I already hinted elsewhere that a law whereby a man might be imprisoned for life for unauthorized beard trimmings and haircuts if motivated by “hate” is a tool I don’t want government to have. But the prosecutors’ Happy Dance Press Release was a model of sobriety compared the judge’s sloppy extemporizing.

As long as I’m shooting off my mouth, let me add that we muddle matters when we pass federal laws like the “Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act” (under which bishop Mullet was convicted) and call them “civil rights” laws. This summary, which illustrates the muddle, is mistaken – although it’s sharper than most people’s minds seem to be:

Civil liberties are protections against government actions. For example, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to practice whatever religion they please. Government, then, cannot interfere in an individual’s freedom of worship. Amendment I gives the individual “liberty” from the actions of the government.

Civil rights, in contrast, refer to positive actions of government should take to create equal conditions for all Americans. The term “civil rights” is often associated with the protection of minority groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women. The government counterbalances the “majority rule” tendency in a democracy that often finds minorities outvoted.

I dissent. “Civil liberties” and “civil rights” are substantially synonymous. I wouldn’t object if someone wanted to say that civil liberties keep the government caged and off our turf, and that civil rights have to do with things we may demand from government – if that list includes only things that are the government’s to give in the first place, such as the franchise, due process, jury trials and the like. But government these days has taken to putting its thumb on the scale balancing the rights of citizens among themselves and calling that “civil rights.” That’s wrong.

The quest for equal conditions for all Americans, insofar as it results in countermanding majority decisions that do not infringe civil liberties or civil rights, is a form of tyranny as it deprives the majority of its right to self-governance. Insofar as it burdens other citizens with obligations to be nice to people they may find odious, or to do business with those they might wish to shun, it is potentially a form of tyranny, and needs very substantial justification.

The Constitution limits government. Including courts. Even if the courts are motivated by a desire for greater equality than the constitution requires.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.