June 25, 2014

I Will Never Win Elected Office

The fact that I have no future in politics is not something I spend a lot of time crying about.  Just about any position I have on things disqualifies me in the eyes of most of the American electorate.  I'm an atheist.  I favor the legalization of drugs.  I'm against the death penalty.  I couldn't go through the motions of wearing the flag pin 24/7, engage in the religious rites that permeate public political life, or step up to explain how my team is right today when I thought the other team was wrong for doing the same thing during the last administration.  Plus, I'd probably say "fuck" on TV and that would be it.

Nonetheless, it disturbs me that, in addition to all that, people may want to hold the job I do against me.  Since, you know, it's required by the Constitution and all.

Recently there's been an upsurge in political rhetoric going after politicians for their prior lives as lawyers, particularly when they've done criminal defense work.  Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler, who's been on this issue for a while, discusses the latest flap, involving Hillary Clinton's work as appointed counsel for a rapist way back when (for more examples see here).  Adler, who's unlikely to be a Hillary voter, cuts right to it:
What should we make of this story?  Perhaps nothing more than that Hillary Clinton represented someone in need and fulfilled her duty as a member of the bar to provide a zealous defense of her client.  This is not something for which she should be attacked.  We are all the worse off if the message sent to young lawyers is that representing guilty or unpopular clients is likely to be a political liability down the road.  Ably and effectively representing a criminal defendant — even one you believe to be guilty — is not 'scummy' or inappropriate. Forcing the state to prove its case before it deprives an individual of their life, liberty or property is a noble endeavor.  So while I think the story is newsworthy, I think most of the attacks on Clinton for this episode are misplaced, and a bit opportunistic. [Note that some attacking Clinton are also calling for more more due process protections for college students accused of rape.]
He does point out that it's fair game to look into how someone represented criminal clients.  That is, if she was unethical or broke the law herself, that's a problem.  But so long as Hillary or anyone else did what criminal defense attorneys are supposed to do - zealously represent their clients - there's nothing to criticize.

That is, unless you want to go after the Sixth Amendment itself.  Counsel for someone accused of a crime is a cherished right, one that was important enough to go in the Bill of Rights, after all.  And while the concept of public defenders and required appointed counsel are of more recent vintage, the idea that everyone, even the most despised, deserve representation has deep roots in this country.

On March 5, 1770, an angry crowd in Boston surrounded a British soldier.  He was eventually joined by eight others, who then fired into the crowd, killing five and wounding six.  Most people know about that - it's the Boston Massacre, one of the foundational events of the American Revolution.

What fewer people know is that the British soldiers were put on trial.  Given the furor over the shootings and the general anti-British sentiment in the colonies, it was hard to find a lawyer to defend them.  Finally, a local lawyer named John Adams agreed to defend them.  He obtained a good result - six of the soldiers were acquitted, while two others were convicted only of manslaughter.  Adams did not shrink from his representation, saying three years after:
The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.
I have the bolded portion of that quote hanging in my office.*  It perfectly encapsulates what defense attorneys do.  It didn't hurt Adams any - he went on to be president, after all.  So, go after Hillary or whoever else based on their politics, not their long ago role as a criminal defense attorney.  If it was good enough for John Adams, it's good enough for you, too.

* Along with other "inspirational" quotes from Frank Zappa, Matt Groening, Dick Neely, and King Crimson!

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