Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Lone Dissenter in Protecting the Great Writ

There is some seriously scary legislation restricting state court defendants' rights to use the writ of habeas corpus in federal court to challenge their convictions. The typically Machiavellian-titled "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005" would eliminate virtually all federal court jurisdiction to review state convictions even for innocence and egregious constitutional errors. I think I have been sort of ignoring it, hoping that it was just a sick joke. But, it keeps on inching forward in the U.S. Congress. This monstrous piece of legislation must be stopped. You can read more about its draconian provisions here. I bring this issue up now because the Conference of Chief Justices has apparently unanimously passed a resolution urging the Congress to slow things down before moving forward on the proposed legislation. Oh, I'm sorry. Did I say unanimously? I meant that they were unanimous except for the justice from Texas. We sure do love to stand out here. Of course, the Chief Justice of Texas doesn't even review criminal cases (we have a Court of Criminal Appeals that acts as the court of last resort in criminal cases), so his vote shouldn't even count. Apparently, the reason he gave for his "no" vote on the resolution was that he hadn't had enough time to study the legislation. Shouldn't he then abstain, instead of voting "no?" Why is it any more responsible to vote "no" on something you know nothing about and have no responsibility for than to vote "yes?"

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