All Three Branches of Government are Broken

Over the past 2-1/2 years, we’ve seen how broken the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government are. We have a president who refused to stand up to the minority party while his party had historic majorities in both houses of Congress. Thanks to this president’s weak-kneed fealty to “bi-partisanship” and his predictable willingness to cave to the Republicans on just about any issue, he no longer has a supermajority in Congress.

Blue Texan at FDL makes a very good case for why Obama and the Democrats lost in 2010.

Democrats lost because they lost independents by 15 points, and independents don’t care what liberals think.

So why did Democrats lose independents?

Because the economy hadn’t improved enough because the stimulus bill was inadequate. It didn’t help matters that the Affordable Care Act was stripped of its most popular feature [a public option] or that HAMP was a total failure or that the Democrats punted on immigration and host of other progressive goals — but it was mostly about the economy.

The lesson, then, is…that Democrats need to deliver — especially when they promised CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN — and when they don’t, they lose elections.

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen the House Republicans and the White House bicker over cutting the budget when what we really need to do is raise taxes on the richest Americans. If Obama had any guts at all, he would have refused to extend the Bush tax cuts period. But, because he’s a lily livered wimp, he caved.

Today, Nicholas Kristof said the Congresspeople are acting like junior high school children.

It’s unclear where the adults are, but they don’t seem to be in Washington. Beyond the malice of the threat to shut down the federal government, averted only at the last minute on Friday night, it’s painful how vapid the discourse is and how incompetent and cowardly our leaders have proved to be.

Kristof doesn’t specifically chide Obama, but come on. If he weren’t so focused on getting “bipartisan support” for every initiative, he could have accomplished much more and gotten more respect from the Republicans at the same time. He was and is still simply too inexperienced to do the job of POTUS.

Tonight I want to put the spotlight on the third branch of government. Our judicial system is broken too. We have an epidemic of wrongful convictions in our justice system, and we have an ultra-right wing majority in the Supreme Court that refuses to do anything about it.

As of February 4, 2011, 250 wrongly convicted people had been exonerated by DNA testing, according to The Innocence Project,

There have been 268 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history. These stories are becoming more familiar as more innocent people gain their freedom through postconviction testing. They are not proof, however, that our system is righting itself.

The common themes that run through these cases — from global problems like poverty and racial issues to criminal justice issues like eyewitness misidentification, invalid or improper forensic science, overzealous police and prosecutors and inept defense counsel — cannot be ignored and continue to plague our criminal justice system.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, more than 130 people have been released from death row because they were exonerated based on evidence that proved they were innocent. The chart below shows those exonerations state by state. The chart comes from a fact sheet (PDF) produced by the Death Penalty Information Center.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that about 70% of the people who have been exonerated are members of minority groups–mostly African Americans. One of the most frequent causes of false convictions is prosecutorial misconduct. For more information on this problem, see this report (PDF) by the Innocence Project. In late March, the Supreme Court basically gave carte blanche to dishonest prosecutors by deciding that a wrongfully convicted man who had spent 14 years on death row has no right to sue for damages. From the LA Times:

John Thompson

A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out a jury verdict won by a New Orleans man who spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution because prosecutors had hidden a blood test and other evidence that would have proven his innocence.

The 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas shielded the New Orleans district attorney’s office from being held liable for the mistakes of its prosecutors. The evidence of their misconduct did not prove “deliberate indifference” on the part of then-Dist. Atty. Harry Connick Sr., Thomas said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disapproval by reading her dissent in the courtroom, saying the court was shielding a city and its prosecutors from “flagrant” misconduct that nearly cost an innocent man his life.

“John Thompson spent 14 years isolated on death row before the truth came to light,” she said. He was innocent of the crimes that sent him to prison and prosecutors had “dishonored” their obligation to present the true facts to the jury, she said.

Besides Justice Ginsburg, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan also dissented from the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court has consistently shielded prosecutors from accountability for misconduct in the past, but Thompson had sued the New Orleans District Attorney’s office, claiming the office had demonstrated a “pattern of wrongdoing” and had failed to ensure that its attorneys obeyed the law. Now the Supremes have eliminated another check against willful misconduct by prosecutors.

Here from NPR is a brief summary of the case against Thompson:

In December of 1984, Raymond Liuzza Jr., the son of a prominent New Orleans business executive, was shot to death in front of his home. Police, acting on a tip, picked up two men, Kevin Freeman and John Thompson.

Thompson denied knowing anything about the shooting, but Freeman, in exchange for a one-year prison sentence, agreed to testify that he saw Thompson commit the crime.

Prosecutors wanted to seek the death penalty, but Thompson had no record of violent felonies. Then, a citizen saw his photo in the newspaper and implicated him in an attempted carjacking — and prosecutors saw a way to solve their problem. John Hollway, who wrote a book about the case, said the solution was to try the carjacking case first.

A conviction in the carjacking case would yield additional benefits in the subsequent murder trial, Hollway observes. It would discredit Thompson if he took the stand in his own defense at the murder trial, so he didn’t. And the carjacking would be used against him during the punishment phase of the murder trial.

It all worked like a charm. Thompson was convicted of both crimes and sentenced to death for murder.

Harry Connick, Sr.

Ten years later, after Thompson’s appeals were exhausted and he was days from be executed, an investigator for his attorneys found that the blood of the perpetrator had been left at the scene of the murder. The lab report showed that Thompson had a different blood type than the person who committed the crime. The DA had deliberately concealed this information from the defense.

At a new trial, more exculpatory evidence that had been suppressed by the DA was presented–10 pieces of evidence in all–and the jury acquitted Thompson in half-an-hour. Thompson then sued and won a $14 million judgment against Connick and the NOLA DA’s office. But, now the right wingers on the Court have nullified that judgement.

On March 31, the editors of The New York Times wrote that a lack of empathy led to this injustice.

The important thing about empathy that gets overlooked is that it bolsters legal analysis. That is clear in the dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her empathy for Mr. Thompson as a defendant without means or power is affecting. But it is her understanding of the prosecutors’ brazen ambition to win the case, at all costs, that is key.

After detailing the “flagrant indifference” of the prosecutors to Mr. Thompson’s rights, she makes clear how critically they needed training in their duty to turn over evidence and why “the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights” of defendants.

The district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., acknowledged the need for this training but said he had long since “stopped reading law books” so he didn’t understand the duty he was supposed to impart. The result, Justice Ginsburg writes, was an office with “one of the worst” records in America for failing to turn over evidence that “never disciplined or fired a single prosecutor” for a violation.

One thing about conservatives, they rarely show any empathy or compassion for anyone who isn’t just like them.

Today John Thompson himself contributed an op-ed to the NYT. Please read the whole thing, but here is just a bit.

I SPENT 18 years in prison for robbery and murder, 14 of them on death row. I’ve been free since 2003, exonerated after evidence covered up by prosecutors surfaced just weeks before my execution date. Those prosecutors were never punished. Last month, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to overturn a case I’d won against them and the district attorney who oversaw my case, ruling that they were not liable for the failure to turn over that evidence — which included proof that blood at the robbery scene wasn’t mine.

Because of that, prosecutors are free to do the same thing to someone else today.

[….]

The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.

Why weren’t they punished for what they did? When the hidden evidence first surfaced, Mr. Connick announced that his office would hold a grand jury investigation. But once it became clear how many people had been involved, he called it off.

According to NPR, former DA Harry Connick Sr. “feels vindicated” by the SCOTUS decision.

“I think that he committed … a murder, and I think that obviously we thought we had enough evidence to gain a conviction,” he says. “So I was delighted that the Supreme Court ruled in our favor.”

Never mind the ten pieces of exculpatory evidence that his prosecutor covered up in order to convict Thompson. And, by the way, the prosecutor confessed what he had done to a friend, so it was no accident. Relatives of the murdered man, Ray Liuzza, still believe Thompson is guilty. Liuzza’s sister

Maurine Liuzza said she has reviewed all of the evidence in the case and still believes that Thompson is guilty.

“Just because you are found not guilty does not make you innocent,” she said.

It’s time for radical change in all three branches of our broken government.


35 Comments on “All Three Branches of Government are Broken”

  1. […] Of government are broken. Please go read all of it. Bookmark It […]

  2. bostonboomer says:

    LA Times editorial, April 6.

    It’s the stuff of a television crime drama: Prosecutors withhold blood evidence that would exonerate the defendant in an attempted armed robbery case. The defendant is then convicted of an unrelated murder after a trial at which he dared not testify lest his previous robbery conviction be mentioned. After 14 years on death row, his execution is imminent. At the last minute, evidence clearing the defendant of the robbery attempt is produced. Later he is tried again for the murder and acquitted.

    [….]

    Under the Supreme Court precedent of Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors are obliged to give the defense information favorable to their clients. In Thompson’s attempted robbery case, the prosecution possessed the report of a blood test performed on the trousers of one of the victims. It showed the blood as Type B; Thompson’s is Type O. But the report wasn’t turned over.

    In his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t dispute that Thompson was wronged — how could he? — but he said the district attorney’s office couldn’t be held responsible for a single violation of a defendant’s rights. Under the court’s precedents, a policy or pattern was required. As a general proposition, Thomas is right. Every employer, including district attorneys’ offices, has rogue employees, and holding a municipality responsible for a single individual’s transgressions would cause a wave of litigation.
    [….]

    A victory for John Thompson would have been sweet vindication for a victim of massive injustice. But it also would have put government officials on notice that they fail to train and discipline their employees at their peril. The court got this one wrong.

    • Seriously says:

      You’ve got to love the fact that deliberately concealing evidence in a case that’s closely tied to a capital case doesn’t indicate a pattern of gross misconduct. Rest easy at your next traffic stop, there’s every chance you won’t be sent to your death under false pretenses by local officials with unimpeachable ethics.

      • bostonboomer says:

        The thing is that Connick had previously been reprimanded by the Supreme Court, so they knew it was a pattern of misconduct.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I also love the way Clarence Thomas pulled the ladder up behind him–no sympathy for other African Americans from him.

      • dakinikat says:

        You’d have to be really stupid not to think there’s a pattern down here. Oh, wait we’re talking Clarence Uncle Thomas aren’t we?

      • dakinikat says:

        Hey, your lucky if it’s even a legitimate traffic stop. I got arrested for being battered by a drug felon.

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        This is what really got me: Regarding the duty to turn in evidence…and the need for “training”

        The district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., acknowledged the need for this training but said he had long since “stopped reading law books” so he didn’t understand the duty he was supposed to impart.

        That is the most pathetic non-excuse. Appalling is not strong enough of word to express what I feel about this.

      • Seriously says:

        Not only was SCOTUS aware, Thomas actually *mentions* the DA’s 4 previous Brady violations in his opinion. But, that’s not a pattern because hiding a blood sample is not the same thing as hiding a file. How can anyone discern a pattern of misconduct when not every act of misconduct is exactly the same? It’s way too confusing to ask anyone in the justice system to use basic critical thinking skills.

  3. Branjor says:

    Blue Texan at FDL makes a very good case for why Obama and the Democrats lost in 2012.

    I wouldn’t give them good odds, but they haven’t lost 2012 yet.

  4. dakinikat says:

    What a thrill to read this! I’m engaging in cheesecake therapy as we speak. The justice system down here in New Orleans is so broke that when asked to tell a judge about why I don’t think I should be on a jury now, I tell them that I don’t believe a thing that the police or the prosecutors say. We’d have a better criminal justice system without police down here.

    • bostonboomer says:

      accidental double post.

    • bostonboomer says:

      At least the ex-DA produced Harry Connick Jr.

      • dakinikat says:

        It’s broken all over. Didn’t you send me the link to the recent justice department review of the NOPD that basically implied they routinely violated every one’s civil rights. I’m still trying to get some justice. Their blue line routinely covers up heinous crimes including murders.

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Really? I thought there may be some sort of connection with Harry Connick Jr.

      • Adrienne in CA says:

        Wonder what Jr thinks about his old man.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Yes, this was a very good post BB. This has shades of the police and local gov. official cover-ups in the south during the Civil Right movement…And I love the number of people in FLA and IL that have been found not guilty on Death Row. What a mess.

  5. Branjor says:

    Their investigative skills must be pretty bad or they’re not bothering at all if they are railroading innocent people into prison. The thing is, *somebody* killed that businessman and hijacked that car, but whoever did is still walking around free. What a shame.

  6. Minkoff Minx says:

    Hey, have you all seen the Democrats.org site? Do you know what the slogan is?

    “Are you in?”

    I put that in the same suck ass lame category as:

    “Winning the future.”

  7. Adrienne in CA says:

    Back to the earlier post about brain differences between conservatives and liberals, in what part(s) of the brain does empathy reside? My gut feel, after years of doing voter registration and talking politics with people all over the spectrum, is that it’s empathy that’s the missing ingredient in the conservative mind.

    You can introduce another way of looking at a question and in some of them you’ll see their face change, literally like a lightbulb’s been lit. Clearly it’s the first time they’d considered there might be another point of view. Whereas I’ll debate myself up one side and down the other to check if I’m being fair in feeling a particular way.

    • bostonboomer says:

      There have been some studies about that. I’ll check, but I can’t do it tonight–have to get to bed….

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        You may find this interesting…The psychology of emotion and study of the medieval period – Medievalists.net

        The psychology of emotion and study of the medieval period

        By Carolyne Larrington

        Early Medieval Europe, Volume 10, Issue 2 (2001)

        Introduction: ‘What I am after is not hard and testable in the narrow empirical ways of a certain style of social science’ warns the legal historian W.I. Miller, a pioneer in the field of the history of emotion. Miller is, in places, dismissive of psychology and the insights it has to offer, yet the psychology of emotion is a growing field and discoveries made in it can be illuminating for medievalists. What follows is an outline of three particular aspects of psychology of emotion and some suggestion of how these might be productive for thinking about emotions in texts of the medieval period.

  8. jawbone says:

    Also, consider the collaboration of part of the Federal government and the judicial branch in giving banksters’ mortgage records fraud, along with other frauds, a light slap on the wrist.

    The NYTimes editorial makes it sound like a completely done deal, one which will undermine states attorneys general in trying to get banksters to to follow the law, much less convist any of illegal activity.

  9. Dario says:

    The government is not broken but working smoothly for those who’ve bought it. Pelosi said that “impeachment is off the table”, but Obama is saying that Social Security and Medicare are on the table. Cannonfire has fixed the Ms. cover to show what a real Republican looks like.

    Obama’s new approach to deficit reduction to include spending on entitlements

  10. Minkoff Minx says:

    Just thought I would post this here…you may find it interesting.
    Cold case: The murder of Louis Allen – 60 Minutes – CBS News

    Five years ago, the FBI announced that it was reopening more than 100 unsolved murder cases from the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s. The goal of the “Cold Case Initiative” was to try and mete out justice in what seemed to be racially motivated killings that were never prosecuted.

    Not many 50-year-old cold cases ever get solved – memories fade, evidence is lost, witnesses and suspects die or disappear. But that’s not the case in the death of Louis allen, a mostly forgotten, but historically significant murder that helped bring thousands of white college students to Mississippi in the Freedom Summer of 1964.

    Yes, 50 years and evidence gets lost or the DA “simply” does not produce the evidence in court…Things really haven’t changed down south.

  11. jacksmith says:

    REALITY!!

    ( Gov. Peter Shumlin: Real Healthcare reform — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yFUbkVCsZ4 )

    ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html )

    ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )

    START NOW!

    As you all know. Had congress passed a single-payer or government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will. Single-payer would be best. But a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! that can lead to a single-payer system is the least you can accept. It’s not about competing with for-profit healthcare and for-profit health insurance. It’s about replacing it with Universal Healthcare Assurance. Everyone knows this now.

    The message from the midterm elections is clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

    They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment, or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!

    THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL NOT, AND MUST NOT, ALLOW AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO STAND WITHOUT A STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE.

    For profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It’s as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

    This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

    Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

    Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

    Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.

    Republicans: GET RID OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE.

    Democrats: ADD A ROBUST GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION TO HEALTHCARE REFORM.

    This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

    If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

    Strong progressive pro “PUBLIC OPTION” CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

    We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs “THE PUBLIC OPTION”. And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro “PUBLIC OPTION” candidate if the need arises.

    ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn’t have much time to prepare before these midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

    Congress you could have pass a robust government-run public option during your lame duck session. You knew what the American people wanted. You already had several bills on record. And the house had already passed a public option. Departing members could have left with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you could have solidified your job before the 2012 elections.

    President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn’t possible before. But it is now.

    Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make the midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    Spread the word people.

    Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It’s time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.

    Sincerely

    jacksmith – WorkingClass 🙂

  12. TheRock says:

    I know I am late to the party, but I JUST got internet access back. Here is actually a place where I can praise Obumbles. Both of his SCOTUS selections in this case voted correctly. This in no way helps future defendants and/or John Thompson, but kudos are warranted for Obumbles. Those other five on the court, however, are the epitomy of the term Asshat.

    Asshats.

    Hillary 2012