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DeLay Decision Also Shows Need for Curbs

The trouble revealed by the reversal to Rep. Tom DeLay's conviction is not just with media bias (see previous post). It also is with the prosecutorial system.

One of the most terrifying aspects of totalitarianism (or authoritarianism) is the power of government officials to find legal excuses to torment and even jail political opponents. We have seen this repeatedly now in Russia. The failed prosecution of Rep. Tom DeLay--whatever you think of his politics, as conservative leader Richard Viguerie says--shows how ambitious and over-zealous prosecutors like Ronnie Earle of Travis County,Texas (Houston) can upend the rule of law even in this country.

Earle failed to put DeLay in prison, but he did destroy his political career and tie him up in legal actions for seven years. Likewise, while the IRS did not manage to destroy Tea Party groups it investigated, it did slow them down during a long period in politics. People who try to wave these kinds of thing away raise questions about their own commitment to our system of law. They flunk the "shoe on the other foot" test: What would they say about a Republican prosecutor or the IRS under a Republican President exercising such ruthlessness?

"Given the vast web of legislation and regulation that exists today, virtually any American bears the risk of being targeted for prosecution," Viguerie quotes Glenn Harlan Reynolds, well-known libertarian professor at the University of Tennessee law school.

"If prosecutors were not motivated by politics, revenge, or other improper motives, the risk of improper prosecution would not be particularly severe," comments Viguerie. But, he adds, they are.

In addition to Earle, think of former prosecutor Elliott Spitzer in New York, who went on to become Attorney General and Governor. (Thankfully, the voters defeated his recent attempt at a political comeback in New York City.)

Put reform of prosecutorial standards on the list of changes needed for a return to Constitutional government in America.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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