Friday, November 19, 2010

Thank the Courts

by Linda Greenhouse

New York Times
November 18, 2010

“America has reached a fork in the road, and the time has come to make a decisive choice,” Daniel J. Popeo, chairman of the Washington Legal Foundation, wrote this week in his monthly column in The Washington Examiner. The choice he posited was between continuing to endure judicial intervention in the conduct of the war on terrorism and “returning control over national and homeland security decisions to the executive and legislative branches.”

I don’t mean to single out the Washington Legal Foundation, a respected conservative research and litigation organization. It is hardly alone in its ritualized framing of a dichotomy between law and national security.

And that’s the point. That the courts — and the lawyers who bring cases to them — are a threat to the country is a trope that has penetrated deep into public consciousness. The typical accompanying warning against “Miranda rights for terrorists” resonates with the doom-saying of an earlier generation of conservatives to the effect that courts make it impossible to keep the streets safe from common criminals.

Now, as then, politicians who would stand up for the courts do so at their peril, or presumed peril. Mark the Obama administration’s painful indecision about what to do with the self-described mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, as Exhibit A. A New York jury’s acquittal this week of Ahmed Ghailani, the accused embassy bomber, on all but one of many charges provided an utterly predictable platform for Republican politicians to denounce the use of civilian courts to try terrorism cases.