The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) has somehow managed to stoop even lower in its dishonest and deceitful campaign to block the Senate from even considering whomever President Obama nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Carrie Severino of JCN, which was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network but rebranded as a group opposed to judicial confirmations coincidentally after Obama took office, took to National Review last week to attack Jane Kelly, a U.S. circuit court judge whom Obama is reportedly considering nominating to the high court, for once defending a child predator while working as a public defender.
As Zachary Pleat of Media Matters pointed out, Severino not only twisted Kelly’s actions in the case, but attacked Kelly simply for doing her job as a defense attorney.
Severino, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, must know that even people accused of heinous crimes have a right to an attorney who would vigorously defend their client. It would completely undermine the judicial process to say that the accused should have no legal representation or should have a lawyer who will simply throw the case rather than fulfill their obligation to defend them.
After all, the right to a fair trial lies at the heart of the Sixth Amendment, and JCN actively promoted the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, who once worked on the defense of convicted murderer John Ferguson.
This attack, Pleat writes, “echoes past right-wing media attacks on Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Department of Justice civil rights division nominee Debo Adegbile.”
Several conservative pundits accused Clinton of leading a “war on women” after she was asked by a judge, in 1975, to defend a sexual assault suspect while she was working in legal aid, while Senate Republicans successfully blocked Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division because they were upset he once worked on a legal team representing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killed a police officer, on an appeals case regarding whether sentencing instructions given to a jury were constitutional. As Miranda said:
It was an ugly episode, in which politicians like [Ted] Cruz essentially declared that not all criminal defendants deserve the Constitution’s guarantee of legal counsel. And it’s telling that Cruz, the self-proclaimed lover of the Constitution, brought it up in his latest ugly screed.
Clinton and Adegbile aren’t the only people targeted by Republicans simply for acting as defense attorneys.
In 2014, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) ran attack ads against South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, for his work as a criminal defense attorney, using the tagline: “Vincent Sheheen: he represents criminals, not us.”
South Carolina Bar Association President Alice Paylor said the RGA ad campaign amounted to an attack on “the whole basis for the U.S. and the U.S. Constitution. According to them, I guess everyone accused of something is automatically guilty.”
The American Bar Association sent a letter to Gov. Chris Christie, a former prosecutor who chaired the RGA at the time, noting, “Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government – even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes.”
The rule of law that governs our society delivers justice specifically because everyone has a right to competent representation. This right is especially important for those who arouse our fear and anger, to ensure that the process by which they are judged is fair and just. This process is what distinguishes us from our darker history, when mobs decided guilt or innocence and punished those they deemed guilty.
And in 2010, a group formed by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, launched attack ads “against the Obama Justice Department for hiring lawyers who, at one time or another, did legal work on behalf of terror suspects.” The group branded the lawyers the "Al Qaeda 7," questioned their loyalty to the country and demanded that the Justice Department release their names.
We can only imagine how Republicans would have gone after John Adams for representing soldiers charged with murder during the Boston Massacre.