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Friday, May 6, 2016

So, who's doing the judging?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Seems like everyone but judges is doing the judging.

Start in Washington, where disputes continue over attempts to drum up support for up-or-down votes for conservative judicial nominees.

If you're a Republican, a halo hovers over your head and your angel wings flap in the breeze. Or you're hateful, prudish, angry and attempting to force the world into your own personal view of heaven.

If you're a Democrat, you're a despicable heathen. Or you're a patriot fending off a wave of right-wing extremism.

Each side verbally attacks their enemy.

So where does the truth lie? Likely, somewhere in between.

Meanwhile, the political rhetoric flies. And the world keeps spinning 'round, the United States continues to run relatively smoothly and mainstream America goes on with their lives.

But in Washington -- and, Sunday, at a church in Louisville, Ky. -- the GOP and conservative groups continued their push toward removing the filibuster as used in delaying or ending the nomination process for federal judges.

Sen. Bill Frist, whose video speech to the Louisville event garnered much of the media attention, sounds much more reasonable than some. Frist urges respect for the balance of power among all three branches of government and respect for the judiciary.

Problem is, some don't respect that -- or any -- balance of power. And they're misusing Christians in their quest to topple political barriers.

A few hard-core Republicans have insinuated, in what sometimes seems to be a blatant political move, that only members of their party have the key to heaven.

Try telling that to the Christians populating Bedford County's churches on Sunday morning -- many who have voted Democrat all their lives.

Not every Democrat is for gay marriage, tax-and-spend government programs and military cuts. They've been betrayed by some of their own too-liberal party leaders at one of the worst times for that to happen.

"We are now being subjected to a carefully planned program designed to discredit everyone who claims to be a conservative," then-Sen. Barry Goldwater, a Republican, wrote in February 1962. "The easiest way to accomplish this objective is to quote the most extreme statements made on our side and assign them as the belief and faith of everyone on our side."

Substitute the word "liberal" or even "moderate" for "conservative" in Goldwater's statement and some Republicans are doing the same 43 years later.

A return to moderation could do wonders for our country.

Both major political parties have some good points -- being drowned out by the roar of selfish, partisan politicians out primarily for themselves or their campaign chests.

As national-level politicians pontificate over judges, the real problem may be at the grassroots level -- in state legislatures and local and state courtrooms, where rulings often have more of a direct effect on individuals.

A few sentences passed down by judges may seem too light to some.

Don't blame the judges. Blame state legislators from previous years.

Judges often find themselves in unenviable situations. A crime-weary public expects long sentences but judges' hands are tied by legislative-devised guidelines.

For example, Michael Thomas Taylor, who choked Grace Handy to death in their Shelbyville home and dumped her body in a ravine, couldn't have been sentenced to more than 25 years since he qualifies as what the state calls a standard Range I offender with no more than one prior offense. Add in a few other considerations and the 20-year sentence negotiated by defense attorneys and the district attorney's office was pretty much the longest possible.

Under state guidelines, with good behavior Taylor, 43, will likely be on the street in six to seven years -- by age 50.

If Taylor had been a "career offender" -- the highest classification, reserved for "Range III" criminals with over five previous offenses -- maximum sentence could have been 60 years with actual time served capped at 36 years.

There are rare cases in which defendants deserve "second chances" or somewhat light sentences, such as non-violent crimes or those where the victim shares much of the blame. But those cases rarely happen.

The people are speaking. And legislators, who talk tough but tread lightly come re-election time, need to back up their anti-crime rhetoric -- and judges -- with stronger action.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer.

David Melson
On the Loose