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.
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!