More matters of Martha’s misdeeds

Regarding yesterday’s rant: Commenter Alice points me to a second post by M. LeBlanc, following up on the first and replying to Radley Balko’s criticism:

The gist of the above post is that LeBlanc doesn’t think the Amirault case is as interesting or as important a strike against Coakley as is Coakley’s opposition to a Massachusetts innocence commission.  She writes:

I think it’s important that we see these actions in a political context, because they illuminate our own responsibility for the actions of prosecutors and judges. I also think it’s important that we see them in the context of systems, rather than just as the morally problematic choices of bad actors.

(Emphasis added.)

So far, so good.  Heck, that sounds like something I wrote about a little while ago, where I argued that processes (corresponding to systems in LeBlanc’s post) are more important than individual outcomes, as processes affect everything they touch.  But here’s where I fall back out of step with LeBlanc:

Nor did I offer her political self-interest as a justification for her actions. I realize that because it came at the end of my explication, it could have seemed like one. Like I was saying “look, she did it for political reasons, so that’s okay.” That couldn’t be further from the case, or further from my intention.

What caught my attention from Balko’s post was, rather, this:

A leftist could make a respectable argument that even though Coakley was grievously out of bounds in the Amirault case the need for her vote on health care reform, filibuster prevention, and other issues is more important than the troubling decisions she made as a prosecutor. A leftist could also plausibly argue that when it comes to actually making criminal justice policy as a senator, Coakley isn’t likely to be any worse than her opponent, and therefore she deserves support because she’s more progressive on everything else.

But LeBlanc isn’t arguing either of those positions. She’s arguing something far more repugnant: She’s conceding that the Amirault case was a travesty of justice, and that Coakley was wrong for her extraordinary efforts to keep Gerald Amirault in prison. But she’s then arguing that Coakley deserves a pass specifically for her actions in the Amirault case, anyway, because all prosecutors do it[…].

(Emphasis, again, added.)

This is where we get back into deep systemic problems.  I’m not arguing that Coakley’s a horrible human being because of what she did to the Amiraults (although that’s probably sufficient).  I’m arguing that Coakley’s a horrible human being — and would make a horrible Senator — because of the pervasive dysfunction with which she led Massachusetts’s prosecutorial corps.  The Amirault clemency protest is one symptom.  So is her refusal to entertain an innocence commission.  So is her prosecution of the Souzas, and her position on forensic evidence in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, and her non-prosecution of Keith Winfield, and her bizarre aggression against the Aqua Team Hunger Force advertisers.  All of those combined show a systemic failure of justice in Massachusetts.

And LeBlanc, in shrugging off the Amirault protest, justified it thus:

As far as I known, it’s something that’s routinely done by prosecutors everywhere. In Illinois, the only place I’ve practiced, the prosecutors oppose all parole petitions, as far as I know. They oppose the petitions with varying levels of vigor. Their vigor is often directly correlated with how strenuously the victims and families of the victims are opposed to release. I can’t find any information about this, but it’s my guess given the notoriety of the case and the large number of “victims” that there was strong public opposition to Amirault’s release.

“Well, everyone else is doing it.”  Okay, so there’s a systemic failure of justice outside Massachusetts as well.  LeBlanc complains that Coakley is a victim of the system, and shouldn’t be punished for playing by its rules:

People seemed to think that the “everyone’s doing it” argument is morally bankrupt. I don’t. I think, when it comes to politics, we simply have to judge people against their peers.

Which, incidentally, Radley Balko did, when he compared Coakley to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

So instead of capriciously blaming individuals for participating in a broken system, whether it’s criminal justice or campaign finance, we should seek to reform the systems to prevent injustice and undue influence from flowering.

Where would we begin “to reform the systems to prevent injustice […] from flowering”?  Within the system itself: the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislative branches of government, including the Senate to which Coakley would like to be elected.  Electing someone who took a proactive interest in making Massachusetts less just to the body which will have to approve any systemic reforms is self-defeating.

But the context that’s really pissing me off in all this is a series of posts by Andrew Sullivan on the systematic torture and murder of inmates at Guantanamo Bay:

Given Coakley’s established record on the dispensation of justice and her cavalier regard for the potential innocence of inmates under her care, I don’t want her anywhere near the Senate when stuff like this is going on.


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