Two recent politically infused happenings illustrate Massachusetts's shocking indifference to civil liberty.
The first stems from this spring's state Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) investigation into allegations of rampant cronyism and mismanagement in the Massachusetts Probation Department, which has long been recognized as a haven for hacks and incompetents.
When the Boston Globe's Spotlight Team exposed this apparent corruption in May, civic outrage ensued. Protected from State House retribution by the public outcry, the SJC mounted a probe headed by bare-knuckled former federal prosecutor Boston attorney Paul Ware Jr., a special favorite of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall. Prior to Marshall's sudden retirement announcement, judicial observers of the judiciary knew that she was wrangling to regain powers stripped from her by the legislature.
But Ware immediately overstepped his bounds: he proceeded to trample on the constitutional rights of witnesses called before his inquisitors and denied them legal representation while being questioned. It took trade journalists at the State House News Service and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly to bring this issue to the fore.
The second instance is of recent vintage, and testifies to the sorrowful degree to which the general public will tolerate the intrusive hand of the Internal Revenue Service, which, all too often, works hand in glove with almighty federal prosecutors, perverting the process of tax collection in order to enhance their already muscle-bound police power.
A case in point: last week, with prosecutors holding a figurative gun to her head, Patrice Tierney, the wife of Massachusetts Sixth District Congressman John Tierney, pleaded guilty to felony tax charges that should never have landed her in court.
Although there is no hint of tax evasion or financial impropriety — in fact, it appears that taxes have been properly paid on the amounts in question — Patrice Tierney chose to accept a criminal record rather than fight questionable charges. Such a fight would have cost well over $1 million and would have smeared her husband's reputation in an election year. There has not been even the slightest suggestion that Congressman Tierney was involved with his wife's actions.
In cases such as this, it would do well to keep the words of New York Federal District Judge Lewis Kaplan in mind. Ruling against the Obama administration's attempt to introduce tainted evidence in a terrorism trial, Kaplan said that, while the world is a treacherous place, we discard the Constitution at our peril. "It is the rock upon which our nation rests," he wrote.
The local legal and political communities should take note.
On the campaign trail
Amid the typical back-and-forth mud-slinging of this year's congressional campaigns, one serious issue has been sneaking into the debate: the reform of entitlement programs, including Social Security.
Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats are saying little of use.
What both sides should be saying is that they are open to any recommendations of President Barack Obama's bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which is tasked with coming up with a balanced approach to bringing down the national deficit — particularly the looming crisis of Social Security and Medicare costs.
The House passed a non-binding resolution earlier this year in favor of giving the commission's recommendations a straight up-or-down vote. The political reality is that this approach — no committee mark-ups, no amendments — is probably the only hope of passing meaningful reform.