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Conduct unbecoming a justice

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Nov. 30, 2008 at 6:00 pm with No Comments »
November 30, 2008 6:00 pm

The following editorial appears Monday in the print edition.

Justice Sanders’ outburst was hardly judicious

Yelling ‘Tyrant’ at the short-timer attorney general isn’t the best way to express a difference of opinion.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders may not have violated any judicial canons when he yelled "Tyrant! You are a tyrant!" at the U.S. attorney general during a speech last week in Washington D.C.

But he sure violated the rules of common sense and courtesy.

Sanders’ voice is clearly caught on tape, as is Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s startled expression. Mukasey later fainted – it’s not believed to be related to Sanders’ outburst – but he has since recovered.

Sanders, who played coy for a few days about whether he was the person who yelled at Mukasey, denies that his action could be described as heckling.

Sanders says he was just speaking his conscience, voicing his opposition to the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies, which Mukasey was defending in his speech to the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative judges and lawyers to which Sanders belongs.

How long would a person be able to similarly speak his conscience at the state Supreme Court before being hauled away by security? We suspect Sanders would not long tolerate having someone in the gallery yelling "Tyrant!" at him.

Sanders has never shied away from voicing his opinion, but this outburst casts doubt on his judicial temperament. And it’s an embarrassment to the state of Washington that a member of its highest court acted so outrageously.

To his credit, Sanders says he regrets the incident and now says, "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t." But then he immediately tempers that regret by suggesting he should have shouted "Tyranny!" instead of "Tyrant!"

Many Americans oppose the administration’s treatment of prisoners and its freewheeling interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. But yelling at the attorney general – who has less than two months left in office – isn’t the most judicious way to communicate that opposition.

And we have a sneaking suspicion that Sanders’ membership in the Federalist Society may be on shaky ground.

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