Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh, it is so on...

Verbal warfare on Alabama's Supreme Court has escalated again.

Justice Champ Lyons this week became the second sitting justice to heap public criticism on the Republican judicial tag team of former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justice Tom Parker via The Decatur Daily, referring to the duo as demagogues whose stances threaten the rule of law. Like his GOP colleague Tom Woodall, Lyons blasted Parker's call for the court not to follow a U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Lyons also condemned Parker for his lack of prolificness and speculated that Moore wants to be governor "as a steppingstone to the White House."

Despite the harsh remarks, Lyons said he liked the former chief justice as a person. He recounted the story of a day when Moore, who had yet to be ousted for his refusal to remove a giant Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, said he was sore from moving furniture the previous day. Lyons' response, which prompted a laugh from Moore: "Oh, great. The last time you did that, Roy, it ended up on national television."

One final point that deserves mention: Parker's spokesman was truly a sight to behold in this story. In an inspired display of flawless logic, he argued that Parker's January newspaper column, which said the state high court should "decline to follow" a U.S. Supreme Court decision, "never, ever said we should ignore Supreme Court precedent." Instead, the spokesman said, "All Parker said was that we should take another bite at the apple. He said we should challenge it again."

Some might call that idea the doctrine of nullification and remind you of a big war that pretty much settled the matter about 140 years ago. But they probably believe that damn liberal media, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's clear that basic logic and English are in decline in Alabama. Whether you like Parker or not, you should know there is a difference between "ignoring" and "declining to follow" a precedent.

By definition, it's impossible to decline to follow a precedent unless you have already paid enough attention to it to decide not to go along.

For example, Parker believes the Alabama Supreme Court should decline to follow wrong U.S. Supreme Court precedents based even in part on foreign law, such as the unratified United Nations treaty cited by the majority in the Roper case. How did Parker know the Roper case relied on foreign law? By reading it, not ignoring it.

So in this matter at least, the Parker spokesman was correct, and Lyons was the one lyin'

7:04 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

The word ignore has many definitions, anonymous commenter. Among them is to "disregard on purpose." Disregard means, among other things, "to treat without proper respect or attentiveness." As the American judiciary has established over the last couple of centuries, lower courts show "proper respect" for controlling U.S. Supreme Court decisions rooted in federal constitutional law by following them, even if they disagree with those holdings. Parker urged his colleagues to do otherwise.

I won't reargue Roper here, but the decision was not based on foreign law. Justice Anthony Kennedy mentioned foreign laws in dicta at the end of the opinion, saying specifically that they were "not controlling." That was after the Court already rooted its decision in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments based on its determination that a national consensus against the juvenile death penalty had emerged.

Whether the Court relied too heavily on scientific studies and the declining number of juvenile executions in finding that consensus, or whether a consensus should have any place in death penalty jurisprudence, are legitimate grounds for debate. But it's wrong to claim that international law dictated or contributed to the outcome just because it was cited in the decision. Judges include dicta in their opinions all the time, for reasons ranging from serious discussion to lighthearted humor. The 11th Circuit's Bill Pryor cited a B-52's song in a decision last year, but no one would claim that "Love Shack" controlled his ruling.

If the Alabama Supreme Court -- or any other lower court, for that matter -- refuses to follow or obey a U.S. Supreme Court decision with which it disagrees, then why should average citizens be bound to follow any court decision with which they disagree?

12:05 PM  

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