Monday, June 16, 2008

Opening elections, closing ranks

We fear aliens and disenfranchise nuns.

Thus did Stanford Law Professor Pamela S. Karlan (right) sum up her criticism of laws that block the right to vote.
Karlan took part in a superb panel at this weekend's annual convention of the American Constitution Society. Though founded just 7 years ago, ACS has created a national forum for liberal lawyers and law students. (That's due in no small part to the hard work of folks like Executive Director Lisa Brown (below right); director Dawn Johnsen, an IntLawGrrls guest alumna; and director Patricia Wald (left), formerly Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and a Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the honoree at ACS' end-of-meeting banquet.) ACS thus provides a counterweight to the Federalist Society, which in the last quarter-century has succeeded in pushing a conservative agenda to the frontline of legal developments in the United States.
ACS' mission was well served by the voting panel. Ron Klain, who led Al Gore's recount bid in 2000, urged every one of the hundreds of lawyers and law students in the audience to do his or her part by volunteering as an election protection worker or election judge for November's general election. Joe Trippi, a presidential campaign aide to Howard Dean in 2004 and John Edwards in 2008, added a global perspective by urging all to go to the Friends of Zimbabwe website and donate toward election protection in that troubled country, which faces a presidential runoff on June 27.
In a word, inspiring.
Of some concern, though, were comments at a Friday morning panel entitled "What's At Stake: Law and Justice Policies in a New Administration." There participants shrank from a suggestion by the moderator, Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan (below left), that criminal investigation might receive even fleeting contemplation by the new President, who will have the task of making an accounting of official abuse post-9/11.
Now, no one would have expected panelists to sound a clarion call for prosecution. Nor is such a call appropriate at this time. It is likely that resort to the criminal system will prove ill-advised and/or impossible. In any event, consideration of the question must await the new administration's analysis of documents, secret as well as public, in order to find out what in fact happened these last 7 years. By that same reasoning, however, it seems equally premature to close ranks against any single avenue for accountability even before the facts are known.

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