Patterico's Pontifications

9/26/2007

More Toobin: The Amazing Assault on Judicial Independence that Never Was

Filed under: Books,General,Judiciary — Patterico @ 12:27 am



In Jeff Toobin’s book “The Nine,” Toobin spends a few pages talking about the Terri Schiavo case, and the alleged threat to judicial independence posed by the Congressional law mandating a federal review of the case. (As an aside, I’ll remind you of my analysis defending the law as appropriate, and stating that the courts got it wrong.) Toobin spends pages discussing O’Connor’s reaction to the alleged assault on judicial independence, and closes the section with this disturbing anecdote that brings home just how real the threat truly was:

The threats were not an abstract issue for O’Connor. In this very month, April 2005 . . . each of the justices was sent homemade cookies containing lethal doses of rat poison. The packages were intercepted before they reached the justices’ chambers; the woman who sent them, Barbara Joan March, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also sent poison to several executive branch officials. (The next year, March was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.) At the time of the Cornyn and DeLay remarks, the episode left O’Connor feeling that the judiciary was under siege.

Very dramatic.

Except that, as Columbo used to say, there’s just one more thing. (Or in this case, two.)

First of all, the executive branch officials who also received packages included “FBI Director Robert Mueller; his deputy; the chief of naval operations; the Air Force chief of staff and the chief of staff of the Army.” In other words, people who had nothing to do with the judiciary. So this was part of an assault on judicial independence . . . how?

Also, from the same link, we learn this:

The letters did not seem to pose much of a real danger since the threatening note told the recipients the food was poisoned. In court papers submitted with the plea agreement, prosecutors said each of the envelopes contained a one-page typewritten letter stating either “I am” or “We are” followed by “going to kill you. This is poisoned.”

I don’t condone sending poisoned food through the mail, with or without warning notes. But the warning notes meant that, as a practical matter, these cookies never posed any real threat to any of the justices.

This fact — that each package contained an explicit warning that the cookies were poisoned — takes a lot of the drama out of the incident. But it’s the truth.

Toobin doesn’t mention it.

The narrative trumps the truth. Toobin has internalized this lesson so well, he could get a job writing for the L.A. Times!

20 Responses to “More Toobin: The Amazing Assault on Judicial Independence that Never Was”

  1. Barbara Jean March pled guilty to mailing poison and threats to government officials, but was not charged with attempted murder.

    March put phony return addresses on the mailings. It seems that her motive was not to kill anybody, but to frame people she didn’t like. The return addresses included people she went to school with, former co-workers, and some guy that she must have thought was her ex-husband but who only had the same name.

    This had nothing whatsoever to do with the Schiavo business, whatever Sandra Day O’Connor thinks, or whatever Toobin thinks O’Connor thinks.

    Glen Wishard (b1987d)

  2. OT But you have to see this.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/2/story.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10465992

    MEXICO – Three Mexican minors detained in California on suspicion of smuggling drugs stole a US Border Patrol car while still wearing handcuffs and drove it back across the border to Mexico.

    Police in the Mexican border city of Mexicali said the three boys had been driving a pick-up truck on a remote Californian highway when a Border Patrol agent stopped them.

    Hazy (56a0a8)

  3. Just to round out the post, here are links to the sentencing memorandum and the DoJ press release.

    The sentencing memo had this about her probable motive:

    Third, the defendant’s conduct does not appear to have been motivated by any personal, political or professional animosity toward the intended recipients of the letters. Rather, interviews with the purported senders of the letters, as well as factors cited in the presentence investigation report, suggest that the defendant’s conduct likely was motivated by a misplaced anger toward the purported senders of the letters, former friends and colleagues who in the defendant’s mind somehow had abandoned or wronged her.1 See Presentence Investigation Report at ¶88. The fact that the defendant chose to mail the letters to high-level public officials in a misguided attempt to cause more harm to the purported senders has increased her sentence by approximately five years.2

    This was an assault on her past associates, not the Supreme Court. And I agree, almost any research at all makes that obvious, so what was Toobin playing at?

    Tom Maguire (b338c4)

  4. Web Reconnaissance for 09/26/2007…

    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often….

    The Thunder Run (59ce3a)

  5. I propose that anyone stupid enough to eat homemade cookies sent by a source unknown to them is too stupid to be a Supreme Court justice.
    How threatened could O’Conner have felt, truly? She knew she would never eat those cookies even if they had made it to her desk.
    She surely must have known that as a public figure she would attract her share of ire-filled kooks. But under siege?
    Is Bush under siege? How many real threats to his life are stopped each day? I doubt the executive branch feels constantly under siege. That sounds so victim-y.

    MayBee (a2697c)

  6. A few months ago William Pryor addressed this in an editorial. Among the points he made was that the threats to judges less serious now that during the civil rights era.

    Mark_0454 (063c8c)

  7. I find it interesting that I have no recollection of this story – it must have been in the news cycle all of 10 minutes.

    IF Justice O’Conner felt threatened, and felt the Judiciary was under assault, that says more about her critical thinking skills, and her unsuitability for the Court at that juncture of her life.

    Another Drew (758608)

  8. Patterico,

    Hate to take you to task for something so minor but Lt. Philip Columbo usually went with:

    “…er…uh…hmm, one thing is botherin’ me, though” or “..uh-huh, yeah… just one question…”

    His technique is one of the few things seen on TV that actually work in real life. ‘Course as a prosecutor, you’ve likely had a chance to work this angle, but you’ve got to get the hemming and hawing in there. Commit to the role, man.

    Uncle Pinky (3c2c13)

  9. First of all, the executive branch officials who also received packages included “FBI Director Robert Mueller; his deputy; the chief of naval operations; the Air Force chief of staff and the chief of staff of the Army.” In other words, people who had nothing to do with the judiciary. So this was part of an assault on judicial independence . . . how?

    The same way everything else is, from the perspective of the independent judiciary fetishists. So was 9/11, for that matter; some of its victims must have been judges.

    Toobin is the judicial equivalent of the old L.A. Times joke: “World Ends Tonight at 11:00 P.M., Poor Hardest Hit.”

    Xrlq (6c2116)

  10. I think the context of this post is somewhat misleading. Rather, I think it is more helpful – again – to put the story in its actual context.

    Toobin spends about four pages talking about the Schiavo case, including the threats of impeachment and Cornyn’s despicable remarks after the murder of the Chicago judge’s family and the Atlanta judge. He spends about four paragraphs (not “pages”) talking about O’Connor’s feelings about judicial independence, including intimidation of judges in other countries. Then he talks about her feelings about death threats specifically. (pp. 246-251)

    However, O’Connor’s concern about threats was not, as this post implies, expressed simply because of some abstract threat to judicial independence presented by the Schiavo law, but in response to speakers’ calls for mass impeachment and otherwise punishing judges, and finally, Cornyn’s outrageous remark.

    O’Connor noted the response to judges’ carrying out the Schiavo law “as it was written, but, alas, perhaps not how the congressman [DeLay] wished it was written.” And then she said:

    “It gets worse,” O’Connor went on. “In all the federal courts, death threats have become increasingly common.” Taking aim at Senator Cornyn, she said, “It doesn’t help when a high-profile senator, after noting that decisions he sees as activist cause him ‘great distress,’ suggests there may be a ’cause-and-effect connection’ between such activism and the ‘recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country.'”

    The threats were not an abstract issue for O’Connor. In this very month, April 2005 , just weeks after the malicious comments in the chat room,* each of the justices was sent homemade cookies containing lethal doses of rat poison. The packages were intercepted before they reached the justices’ chambers; the woman who sent them, Barbara Joan March, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also sent poison to several executive branch officials. (The next year, March was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.) At the time of the Cornyn and DeLay remarks, the episode left O’Connor feeling that the judiciary was under siege.
    (p. 250)

    * Bolded language was left out of post at beginning of thread. The chat room comments were described at p. 249:

    “Okay commandoes, here is your first patriotic assignment … an easy one. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O’Connor have publicly stated that they use [foreign] laws and rulings to decide how to rule on American cases. This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. … If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week.”

    Toobin pointed out that “[t]he assaults on the judges, and Cornyn’s ugly reference to them, left a particularly strong impression” because of recent death threats, including the chat room message.

    Itsme (f3d400)

  11. I like how dismissive we are of a poisoned death threat.

    amarc (712ffe)

  12. How many death threats does the President receive a year? The Sec of Defense? The AG?

    Is the Executive Branch under assault?

    Techie (c003f1)

  13. Patterico’s point remains that this stuff does not add up to an ‘assault’ on judicial independance itself.

    SPQR (6c18fd)

  14. Exactly, SPQR.

    MayBee (6313ae)

  15. SPQR #13:

    #

    Patterico’s point remains that this stuff does not add up to an ‘assault’ on judicial independance itself.

    And O’Connor never said it did, not in the context P presents it.

    Itsme (08c26e)

  16. Toobin said she felt the judiciary was under siege. It wasn’t, and these examples show little reason for her to have felt it was.

    MayBee (391d8d)

  17. Maybee #16:

    I suggest you read the entire chapter before you draw conclusions about what she said and felt.

    Itsme (08c26e)

  18. I’ve read the entire chapter. MayBee is right.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  19. I have too, and I disagree.

    She is saying the examples given in the text show little reason for her to feel that the judiciary was “under siege,” but in context of the entire passage (not actually a full chapter), it is clear that she was thinking in terms of the cumulation of events.

    However, my disagreement was with your “narrative” that the Schiavo law itself represented a “threat to judicial independence” in O’Connor’s mind sufficient to cause her confuse some abstract threat posed by a law with actual death threats.

    However, it is clear from the flow of the passage that O’Connor’s concern about the abstract “threat to judicial independence” posed by the Schiavo law was quite separate from her very real concerns about the tone of the rhetoric, threats of impeachment and punishment of judges, and the suggestion that actual violence against judges was somehow justified…as emphasized by death threats delivered in chat rooms and by way of poisoned cookies.

    Itsme (08c26e)

  20. I had meant to include my example of your point, with emphasis added:

    In Jeff Toobin’s book “The Nine,” Toobin spends a few pages talking about the Terri Schiavo case, and the alleged threat to judicial independence posed by the Congressional law mandating a federal review of the case. (As an aside, I’ll remind you of my analysis defending the law as appropriate, and stating that the courts got it wrong.)Toobin spends pages discussing O’Connor’s reaction to the alleged assault on judicial independence, and closes the section with this disturbing anecdote that brings home just how real the threat truly was:

    The threats were not an abstract issue for O’Connor. In this very month, April 2005 . . . each of the justices was sent homemade cookies containing lethal doses of rat poison. The packages were intercepted before they reached the justices’ chambers; the woman who sent them, Barbara Joan March, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also sent poison to several executive branch officials. (The next year, March was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.) At the time of the Cornyn and DeLay remarks, the episode left O’Connor feeling that the judiciary was under siege.

    Very dramatic.

    Except that, as Columbo used to say, there’s just one more thing. (Or in this case, two.)

    First of all, the executive branch officials who also received packages included “FBI Director Robert Mueller; his deputy; the chief of naval operations; the Air Force chief of staff and the chief of staff of the Army.” In other words, people who had nothing to do with the judiciary. So this was part of an assault on judicial independence . . . how?

    Itsme (08c26e)


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