In defense of a Democratic District Attorney

I voted for Mike Anderson. It pained me, and my father threatened to stop talking to me because of it, but I could not bear the thought of someone like Lloyd Wayne Oliver becoming DA, even more than I could not bear the thought of someone like Anderson becoming DA.

I expected most of my (Democratic/Liberal) friends & colleagues to come to a similar decision, albeit as painfully as I did. However, while most did, in fact, vote for the Republican candidate, the rationale was absolutely appalling. Far too many of my contemporaries, who otherwise vote liberally, have been duped into this folly of believing a District Attorney is about exacting punishment and revenge, and therefore it is perfect for the GOP. The DA is not about punishment, it is about equity and fairness.

In England, there once existed an institution named the Court of Chancery. Its main purpose was to be an equitable companion to the aloofness and harshness of Common Law. While the Court of Chancery did not, per se, deal with much of the same material as a  District Attorney would deal with, the concept was still, in my opinion, pretty much the same.

Great Britain, once upon a time used these equitable remedies to straighten out the de facto injustices caused by their legal system, both in criminal and civil cases. Today, in the United States, we have things like punitive damages and (with the exception of moron Texas) no loser-pay laws in litigation, meaning the courthouse doors are open to everyone. Finally, we have the modern District Attorney.

Again, I am familiar with the history of the law, and know that the District Attorney, in its modern day prosecutorial role, is not intended to be an equitable figure, but that is what has occurred. I realize, in many ways, the prime function of the DA is to persuade juries to the side of the State, but that does not mean the DA is a figure of the vigilante mobs, elected on promises of exacting retaliation “for the victims” or “for justice“. Rather, like just about everything else in our common law system, the position is about the accused, and not the attacked.

The District Attorney, in its modern embodiment, is invaluable in cuing plea deals, and deciding exactly which course of action to take on a case. Thus, the idea of “prosecutorial discretion.” For example, even though a [first time] DWI is considered a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas, and the punishment is 180 days in jail, many defendants can get off without doing any jail time, and some can even see their records expunged after the completion of a pseudo-probationary program (the DIVERT program, a creation of Ms. Lykos).

The DA, in this capacity, is the arbiter of equity. The law is cold, black & white, and aloof. But the DA, who is human, should be warm, grey, and involved. If extenuating circumstances are involved, the penalty will often be mitigated. This is why a lunatic who murders a police officer, and a woman who strangles her abusive husband in his sleep, are not charged with the same crime, even though it may seem the law would warrant such action. It is the same reason Jean Valjean’s petty larceny does not warrant the same penalty as post-Hurricane electronic store looters.

Therefore, my heart cries when I find my otherwise-liberal friends talking about how they want a “hard on crime”, “law & order” DA, but will stick with Democratic Judges. In fact, it is this type of cross-ticket voting that kept Bradford out of the office to begin with. The DA is not, and most definitely should not, be a bully pulpit for modern day public punishment. It should be the keepers of equity in an otherwise inequitable system. One in which first time offenders may be channeled into probationary programs instead of being locked up like hardened criminals, in which drug addicts may be treated for their disease, rather than punished for their infraction.

Politicians should be the true retaliatory figures, and the true “law and order” types. For they are the ones who write the laws. If the public truly wishes for blood, than the legislatures would be the ones to stiffen the penalties. As the keepers of the grey in a black & white world, the DA should not be seen as the inquisitor.

Yes, I voted for Anderson, but if given another option, I wouldn’t have. For the DA is not about punishment, it is about protection.

In re Fisher

My take on Affirmative Action, from my day-job at The Justice:

This past week was the 50th anniversary of integration at my hometown’s college, the University of Houston.

The college has seen a dramatic transition and is now the third most racially and ethnically diverse college in the nation, according to the U.S. News and World Report. This reversal is most likely the result of both changing demographics and affirmative action.

On the other hand, the diversity at the University of Texas is less likely to be attributed just to changing demographics: Since integration, the proportion of African-American students has risen to 20 percent, and the proportion of Latino students has risen to nearly 21 percent.

This blossoming of diversity is newly found in the South, finally taking part in the progressive tenants of the 20th century. However, these programs now face new challenges from our judicial system.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in what will, most likely, be a landmark Supreme Court decision. It  could outlaw all affirmative action programs used at public universities.

The Supreme Court is likely to strike down all affirmative action programs, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote who saved the programs 10 years ago, is no longer on the court.

There is no doubt in my mind that affirmative action has tremendously changed this country for the better.

In my “Social and Political Philosophy: Democracy and Disobedience” course, Prof.Andreas Teuber (PHIL) mentioned that President Johnson once stated that affirmative action was necessary because students overcoming poverty and racism could not be accurately measured against those who did not have to face the same difficulties.

Johnson compared a person helped by affirmative action to a person who “has been hobbled by chains, and then when liberated, brought to the starting line of a race and told, ‘You are free to compete with all the others.’”

Indeed, the harshest critics of affirmative action today, in their blind hatred of anyone given the slightest push in college admissions, underscore why affirmative action is needed in the first place.

All too often, those who oppose affirmative action lay out the same story: The sad rich white kid was denied entrance into a prestigious university, as he may feel is his birthright.

Each of the plaintiffs of affirmative action court cases have sued institutions of higher learning after they were denied admission. These people assumed that the sole reason for their rejection was because they were white. 

Additionally, most detractors seem to fundamentally misunderstand how affirmative action programs function today.

While originally, universities may have had quota systems, these actions have been illegal for 34 years since the Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Under current precedents and universities’ rules, race may only be considered a part of the larger picture in admissions decisions.

In reality, several other factors are considered during the college admissions process aside from grade point average, leadership and extracurricular positions. Personality (that is one of the reasons there is often an interview), background and profile are some of the additional factors.

Affirmative action’s opponents may not understand that wealth, familial connections and a stable home life have tremendous influence on a student’s grades throughout high school.

In 2010, Harvard University published an article alleging that the SAT was biased toward white people, citing cultural differences in the verbal section. Additionally, a 2009 study published by The New York Times showed an average difference in score of about 375 points between the lowest and highest income groups, most likely as a result of the ability to purchase preparation materials and tutoring.

Rather, the opponents of affirmative action should look at the positive effects of fostering diversity within the community. An article from The New York Times from this past Friday claimed that ending such programs, “would reduce the number of black students by about 60 percent, and the number of Hispanic students by about one-third, at selective private schools.”

Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio, who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, is another example of the positive attributes of affirmative action. While Castro had always stood out among his friends and family for being intelligent, he could not overcome the institutional bias of standardized testing.

According to a New York Times article from a few years ago, Mayor Castro’s SAT score was 1210 out of a maximum of 1600, well below the mean score for Stanford University.

He attributed his acceptance to Stanford to its affirmative action program. Granted, Castro boasted a stellar grade point average, but affirmative action was most likely at least partially responsible for his acceptance. It is worth noting that without any further help, he excelled at Stanford, was elected to the university’s student senate, and gained admission to Harvard Law School, this time in the median range of incoming students.

Nevertheless, opponents of the program find that any such boost is unfair. Conservative organizations and blogs such as Breitbart, Drudge Report, and The Washington Times have given Castro the pejorative, if not racist, title of “affirmative action boy” or “Mayor affirmative action.”
Such hatred underscores why the program is still needed today, just as it has been needed in the past.

I am sure there are many more like Castro whose stories have yet to be written. If our nation’s Supreme Court justices overturn the 30 years of precedent to outlaw affirmative action in public institutions, their stories may never be written.

International Perspective on the Democratic Party

Any poor schlemiel who will ever take an introductory class on Comparative Government will realize something right off the bat–our political system, Democrats & Republicans, is fundamentally different than other countries. America has a a problem with people not voting, we have a lot of young ingrates that won’t get off their lazy butts long enough to go to a polling booth, and I mean A LOT of them. Voter Turnout in 2008, our big “landslide” election was 62%. The net result of this is that the people on the extreme right who do vote dominate the entire process.

Speaking internationally, the United States has two political parties: a right-wing party, and a “big tent” party that encompasses centre-right, centre, and centre-left. The left-wing people of America are not really represented. This is fundamentally different than most other international systems. European nations have right-wing parties, LDRP of Russia and Yisrael Beiteneu of Israel as two examples, but neither ever really make it past third or fourth place. I have noticed that most European models are skewed to the left, whilst the United States is skewed to the right.

In Canada, there was at one point a similar system to the United States. There was the Conservative Party, representing the centre-right, the Liberal Party representing the centre-left, they fought over the middle, and there were smaller third parties that got the right-wing and left-wing. However, all of this changed in 2011. While the Conservatives maintained their control of the government, there was a spectacular death and resurrection of the left that occurred in the background. The Liberal Party lost half of their seats, and the centre-left Quebec interests party lost all but four. Meanwhile, the left-wing New Democratic Party tripled their share in the House of Commons. The left of Canadian politics was traded from cenre-left to left-wing.

In 2010, however, the opposite thing occurred in the United Kingdom. The centre-right Conservative Party rose to power, defeating the left-wing Labour Party (it is important to not the Labourites are probably in between centre-left and left-wing after the reforms of Blair). However, the big winners of the elections was the Liberal Democrat Party, of the centre-left persuasion. In one election they rose from irrelevance to forcing the first coalition government in 65 years.

Still, other nations see a perpetuation of the old ways. In France, the centre-right UPM would face off against the left-wing Socialist Party, the two competing over the middle with splinter parties vying for the extreme. Similarly, Germany has the centre-right Christian Democrats and left-wing Social Democrats.

There seem to be three types of non-American political parties: Conservative (centre-right), Liberal (centre, centre-left), and Socialist (left-wing). Fascism (far-right), Republicanism (right-wing), and Communism (far-left) are all minor actors. What I’m trying to get at here is that the USA has a political system which is at its core unsustainable. Democrats used to be exclusively centre-left and the GOP centre-right, but times have changed as the Republicans keep moving to the right and the Democrats keep eating up the empty territory. Once the Democratic Party solidifies its control of Conservatives, Liberals, and Socialists (which in the United States is quite small), it will be the end of the Republican Party.

I have hypothesized that this would happen around the early 2030s, keeping in line with demographic changes. The result would be a short lived second Era of Good Feelings, followed by the Democrats splitting into two distinct parties. What those two parties would represent, I believe, is based on just how far the country moves to the left. Whether it will revert to being a centre country like before, or to the European model of being skewed to the left.

If we revert to a centre model, we would have a Conservative party roughly in line with the Republicans of the Kennedy era and a Liberal party roughly in line with the Democrats of the Kennedy era. If, however, we go further, we could have a Liberal party and a Socialist Party. I think it is based on the political climate of the era (1932-1980, Left), (1980-Present, Right).

Anyways it’s late, and Houston politics is pretty quiet right now.