One of the most chilling scenes in Alex Gibney's new documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side” (which premiers at the Tribeca Film Festival in a fortnight) is a clip from George Bush delivering his 2003 State of the Union Address. “Some of them,” Bush said, referring to alleged terrorists “have now been captured and gotten a taste of American justice.” The hall rose in applause, Democrats and Republicans. And a little more than a year later, America got its first glimpse of how Bush understands “American justice.” It apparently has nothing to do with people being charged with crimes and convicted after a fair trial. It involves brutal punishments being meted out to people who have been captured based on a president's decision – delegated to unknown persons in the vast national security apparatus – that they are terrorists. A decision that, as it turns out, happens to be wrong roughly 75% of the time.Yeah, that sounds like Texas. To be fair, things have changed. Even my professors no longer talk about a "plenty guilty" rule. But if things have changed, it's only recently, and only in degree. I'd like to say President Bush and his cronies are an embarassment to the state of Texas, but the said things is that's how many of my fellow Texans down here think. But as Horton points out, there's still hope:
This is not what I understood to be “American justice,” and calling it that is an insult to the nation's foundational values. Perhaps we should call it “Texas justice.” I thought that after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune, commenting on yet another case in which a person who has spent half of his life in prison in connection with a rape conviction is now being exonerated due to conclusive DNA evidence – the thirteenth such case in Dallas County since 2001.
The case made me think of the arrest and conviction of 35 blacks in Tulia, Texas, in 1999 – the handiwork of a rogue racist policeman.
And finally it made me think back to my own time in law school in Austin, Texas and to the words of my criminal procedure professor, George Dix. A very humane and wise man, Dix took some time to acquaint the outsiders in the class – like me – with the facts of life in Texas criminal justice, including the “plenty guilty rule” (a favorite of Texas judges, providing the notion that if a defendant was “plenty guilty,” it really didn't matter how many procedural rights had been trampled.
But then it strikes me that perhaps it is an insult to Texas to associate Bush and Gonzales with the state. After all, this is also the state we associate with Lyndon Johnson, Bill Moyers, Molly Ivins, Sissy Farenthold, Leon Jaworski, Tom Clark, Charles Alan Wright, Sanford Levinson and Lloyd Doggett. One wonders when at length Texas will awaken from the nightmare it unleashed on the nation, and find its way back to its populist roots.That's a list of names to be proud of, and it's backs my contention that the best of Democrats come from Texas, because a Democrat has to be of firm conviction and strong belief to make it down here.
Texas is a strange bird of a state. When it comes to the law, the fact is we value property over life. I'd like to see us keep the former, and acquire the latter. There's hope, as the strong people listed above make clear, but it's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of work.