By: Mark W Adams

I had the distinct pleasure of learning the in's and out's of Federal Procedure from a Professor who served as one of Alcee Hasting's attorneys during his impeachment proceedings.  I don't claim any special insider knowledge of the case due to that relationship, except to the extent that I've been aware of the matter far longer than most of the public outside of South Florida.

Hasting's name always perks my ears up.  It's a fascinating case, and Hastings is truly a poster-child for the conflicting values of "innocent until proven guilty" and the idea that public figures must avoid "even the appearance of impropriety."

Not without irony do I make the comparison of the plight of Alcee Hastings with another infamous black resident of South Florida who was notoriously acquitted of criminal deeds, yet faces a life-time of persecution because he was punished in another judicial proceeding with a much lower burden of proof than that required to deprive someone of life, liberty or property.

Yep, I'm playing the O.J. card.

I do agree with E-pony Matt, along with Neil and even Stephen Kaus, but only in the conclusion they reach, not for the reasons that got them there.  Not for one minute.

I think that the cloud surrounding Hastings, the misinformation, sound-byte culture, and politics of personal destruction makes Alcee poison to Nancy Pelosi's agenda if she were to put him in a prominent role at this point in history.  It's the same logic that makes me withhold my support for Hillary Clinton -- why give the wingnuts an easy target?

But take a cruise down the intellectual exercise highway with me to stare in the face of hypocrisy as the law clashes with politics.

Bloggers should take the same care that traditional journalists are taught in making the important distinction between someone who is a criminal and those merely accused. Up until the day that the civil jury found O.J. Simpson "liable" for the deaths of his wife and her friend, any publication or broadcaster risked a defamation suit if they didn't interject the magic word, "alleged" when branding the former Heisman star a murderer.

However, once the civil jury found that he was "more than likely" guilty, despite being previously found "not absolutely certain to be" guilty -- you and I as well as CNN's Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace, Jay Leno, or any number of Fox News moral arbitrators were free to call O.J. a murderous scumbag to our hearts desire.

Alcee's "civil" conviction in the Senate, which removed him from the federal bench subsequent to his impeachment in the House of Representatives, hung on a far less burdensome standard of proof than O.J.'s civil trial -- which demanded a preponderance of the evidence.  Alcee's prosecutors, the House managers, only had to show to each individual member that it would be politically expedient to throw this particular bum out.

Now, to be fair, I more than likely would have voted with the majority (and a huge majority it was) to remove Hastings.  I take seriously the idea that a member of the bench must avoid even the appearance of impropriety -- and Hastings did appear to have been under an unacceptable cloud of improper behavior.  But, and this is key, it's horribly inconsistent and flies in the face of integrity for the same body that so overwhelmingly voted to impeach the Judge allowed that same man to sit with them as one of their members. (Note also that my standards are higher than the constitutionally described removal for cause -- guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, but more akin to allowing the judge to serve only upon continued "good behavior".)

How do you justify this inconsistent result?  Beyond admiring Hasting's spunk to even try and get elected to Congress after going through the ignominy of a successful impeachment, his obvious popularity in his district cannot be enough to overcome the idea that so many of his colleagues must believe that they are sitting next to a man without scruples -- that or something has changed.

Like the Senate, the House is constitutionally empowered to determine the qualifications of its own membership.  Because of this, prevention of a previously impeached judge to sit as a Representative is a simple matter of majority rule.  By a vote of 413 to 3, the House saw fit to impeach Hastings, yet when it came time to approve of the voters' decision to rehabilitate his political career, they could not muster half that many to refuse his admission.

That result is inexplicable -- except for one thing, political expedience.  There's never been a civil trial of Hasting's case.  He was never given the opportunity to vindicate himself in such a setting, or be found liable like O.J.  In fact, you might note that his Senate trial was particularly unorthodox in that he was not tried in front of the entire Senate as would be proper under the Constitution, but only a Senate committee.

You might also note that the Senate would have been well within it's rights to forbid Hastings from ever seeking a federal office again, but again, inexplicably, they chose not to.

The burden of proof in his impeachment proceedings was left entirely up to the conscious of the Members.  The extent of the punishment was not subject to any mandated guidelines, but again, up to the whim of each Senator on that committee.

Now, just looking at the results, not the evidentiary minutiae of circumstance -- acquittal in criminal court -- 413-3 impeachment vote by a body that freely accepted him as a member when it could have refused by a simple majority 3 years later -- removal by committee which avoided a trial before the full Senate -- 12 years tenure in the House as a result of a loyal constituency -- rising to a position of distinction in the Intelligence Committee solely due to his seniority and presumed merit, Alcee Hastings absolutely deserves to be committee chair.  His predicament is entirely the creation of raw political self-interest of a Congress that never, ever thought it would have to deal with him again.  Who never thought they'd have to deal with the hypocrisy of their own indifference.

Unfortunately, for those very same reasons, because of self-interested political realities, Alcee Hastings cannot be allowed to become the lightning rod for accusations of Democratic party corruption by Republicans desperate to find any absolution mitigating their historically corrupt turn at the levers of power.

After all, you wouldn't let O.J. date your daughter, would you?

1 Comment:

Ara said...

Hastings' "indictment and trial," aka impeachment and conviction, were political, not legal, outcomes.

He got his revenge by being elected to Congress. Unfortunately for him, that's as far as it goes. Chairing the Intelligence Committee just wasn't in the cards -- again, because it is a political call, not a legal one.