A fool’s competition: who can be more ignorant about the Constitution?

Yesterday, I wrote about world-renowned Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias’ nigh-moronic article on the ZImmerman trial suggesting that GZ (that’s what we call him) got lucky because he had high-paid attorneys and perhaps, just only, if he had public defenders, we’d have had “the right outcome”.

You’d think that’d be the extent of the stupidity. But someone mistakenly told Lawrence O’Donnell that it was a competition and so, on his show last night [warning: autoplay] on MSNBC, Lawrence (he goes by @Lawrence on Twitter, so I’ve taken the liberty of calling him that) decided to up the stupid ante and demonstrate that he either has forgotten about, or never heard of that thing called the Fifth Amendment.

most defendants in america are guilty, or at least are found guilty in court.

He opens with this, which is an absolutely critical distinction, but he makes no mention of it from here on out and doesn’t seem to actually understand that distinction. See if you can pick up on his theme.

when a lawyer wants to know how tough your case is, they always ask the same question. can you put your guy on the stand? and everyone understands what no means. no means your guy is guilty, very guilty, and putting him on the stand will prove that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

saying you can put your guy on the stand doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. it just means he might be a very good liar.

lawyers know the jury instructions will order the jury to not consider the fact that the defendant didn’t testify, but they know, the lawyers know that in a normal case jurors will hold it against the defendant. they will correctly in most cases interpret the defendant’s silence in the courtroom as an indicator of guilt.

Figured it out yet 1? No? Let’s see if Ken Popehat at Popehat can’t give you a clue. Yesterday, Ken wrote about that OG of imbecilic commentators, Nancy Grace. In a brilliant post, he solved the mystery of her and her seemingly discordant views that didn’t fit into one neat political label:

Nancy Grace’s political bent is quite recognizable to me. She’s not liberal or conservative, and no principled view of gun ownership or race or women’s rights drives her coverage. No, she’s a vigorous statist, at least with respect to criminal justice. Her political viewpoint is perfectly internally consistent. As a statist, purpose of the criminal justice system is to convict and punish to the maximum extent possible people accused by the government. To determine whether someone has committed a brutal and dastardly crime, all you need to know is whether the government has said they did. That’s why defense attorneys are worthy of contempt: they are, by definition, trying to obstruct justice. That’s why she questions and despises constitutional rights: they are mere impediments to the guilty being punished. (That view, no doubt, fueled her penchant for prosecutorial misconduct.)

As he writes further on, Nancy Grace is but the ugly personification of a viewpoint that has permeated and taken over large swathes of the American consciousness: if you are arrested, you are guilty and if you are guilty, you are, by definition evil and thus deserving of the most severe of punishments and you lose your humanity.

Now, go back and read @Lawrence’s comments again. See the theme? Lawrence makes no allowance for the ideas that: A) there are innocent reasons for not testifying; B) that the burden of proof lies entirely with the State and they must be rigorously held to that burden; C) that someone who is arrested is not guilty of the crimes with which they are charged 2.

He is but of a cloth with Nancy Grace: born of the idea that anyone who is arrested is validly arrested and, to borrow from Ken again, “to determine whether someone has committed a brutal and dastardly crime, all you need to know is whether the government has said they did.”

This is an extraordinary turn for a nation founded on quite different principles, ones that the Founders were sure to include in our organizational charter. America was not built to be statist. It was built to be skeptical of vast governmental powers and rubber stamps. It was built to protect the individual against the tyranny of the State.

The belief system that @Lawrence exhibits is anathema to the values we hold. I quote, again, my favorite quote:

Ammianus Marcellinus relates an anecdote of the Emperor Julian which illustrates the enforcement of this principle in the Roman law. Numerius, the governor of Narbonensis, was on trial before the Emperor, and, contrary to the usage in criminal cases, the trial was public. Numerius contented himself with denying his guilt, and there was not sufficient proof against him. His adversary, Delphidius, “a passionate man,” seeing that the failure of the accusation was inevitable, could not restrain himself, and exclaimed, “Oh, illustrious Cæsar! if it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?” to which Julian replied, “If it suffices to accuse, what will become of the innocent?” Rerum Gestarum, L. XVIII, c. 1.

Coffin v. United States. Consider his other comments, which are equally puzzling, if not more so:

lawyers who win controversial cases always tell us we must accept the controversial verdicts. but they’re lying. lawyers appeal jury verdicts themselves all the time specifically because they themselves do not accept verdicts that they don’t like. you do not have a civic duty to accept the wisdom of jury verdicts. the founding fathers didn’t want you to. that’s why they provided for an appeals process.

There is nothing in the law that dictates whether verdicts must be socially accepted, in that people have been – and will always be – free to disagree with verdicts. But that is quite different from defendants appealing guilty verdicts, which is what he seems to imply.

But this reverts back to the unyielding faith that @Lawrence seems to place in the system itself. The system must be correct and has to be correct because to be otherwise is too frightening a concept to comprehend. Ergo, anyone who appeals a verdict does so because he or she “doesn’t like it”. There is no no acknowledgment from him that an appeal may be necessary to vindicate the Constitution, which may have been violated during trial thanks to single-minded people like him who take for granted the purity of the State’s decision to accuse an individual of a crime.

But here’s the troubling part. While Nancy Grace is wholly internally consistent, @Lawrence, in closing, reveals some sensitivity to the plight of the oppressed that is wholly inconsistent with the foregoing.

lawyers are the only white people i actually know who have intensely felt experience with the sadness and anger of justice denied in this country. i’ve actually seen young lawyers cry in court when an unjust verdict is read. if you’ve never experienced it, if you’ve never felt yourself somehow connected to it, then you might be lucky enough not to know how painful and sad justice denied can be.

black americans have known that feeling since the time they arrived on this continent in chains. the first e-mail i got after the verdict on saturday night was from a black american mother of a 2-year-old boy. she sent this picture with just these words — “weeping with rage for my little american.”

Black Americans are routinely victims – just not the victims that @Lawrence is supporting in this diatribe. They’re victims of an overzealous system that incarcerates them at vastly disproportionate rates. They’re the victims of underfunding of defense systems that leaves them vulnerable and exposed to the behemoth that is the Government. They are victims of drug laws that target their minority status and their residential status, unnecessarily tacking on enhancer penalties. They are victims of the biased death penalty, making it more likely that they will be executed. They are victims of race.

But to people like Nancy Grace and @Lawrence, there is no nuance. People are either good or evil. Evil people get arrested and punished and good people are the rest of us. Or is it them?

Does @Lawrence weep for them when they’re victims of the system that he is so invested in? Because when that happens, they’re not called victims. They’re called defendants. And defendants are bad people that no one should weep over.

Oh hai.

Oh hai.


  1. For a more detailed take-down of Lawrence’s ignorance of the Fifth Amendment, see this post by fellow PD blogger NFT.
  2. Although he does pay lip service to the lawyer who has to defend the “innocent” client, but as we are all aware, there is a significant distinction between the innocent and the not guilty, and this distinction is not merely one of semantics.

6 thoughts on “A fool’s competition: who can be more ignorant about the Constitution?

  1. nidefatt

    And yet, despite these talking heads and alarming statistics that most people don’t know their rights or don’t think that they should have them, appellate courts continue to shrug and say, “We presume the jury followed the court’s instructions.”
    Facepalm guys. For real.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: To Talk Inside Baseball, You Have To Be Inside Baseball | Simple Justice

  3. Joe Papp

    I liked: via @gideonstrumpet – America was not built to be statist. It was built to be skeptical of vast governmental powers and rubber stamps. It was built to protect the individual against the tyranny of the State.

    Reply

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