A Unanimous Supreme Court Makes The Crucial Point That Unethical Isn’t Necessarily Illegal, And Shouldn’t Be

This was a bad day for over-zealous prosecutors.

First, the Justice Department dropped all charges against Michael Flynn in the face of findings of overwhelming prosecutorial misconduct. Then a unanimous U. S. Supreme  reversed the fraud convictions of the two former aides to New Jersey governor Chris Christie for their roles in the “Bridgegate” scandal.

In 2013, Bridget Kelly, once Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and William Baroni of the Port Authority, had collaborated in reassigning traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge typically reserved for residents of Fort Lee, N.J., to punish the town’s mayor for withholding support of Christie’s reelection bid. Christie ducked responsibility  for the petty stunt that inconvenienced hundreds of commuters, but was never formally implicated.

The Court held, in Kelly v. United States, that the actions of the two did not meet the statutory definition of fraud.

Baroni’s and Kelly’s realignment of the access lanes was an exercise
of regulatory power—a reallocation of the lanes between different
groups of drivers. This Court has already held that a scheme to alter
such a regulatory choice is not one to take the government’s property.
Id., at 23. And while a government’s right to its employees’ time and
labor is a property interest, the prosecution must also show that it is
an “object of the fraud.” Pasquantino v. United States, 544 U. S. 349,
355. Here, the time and labor of the Port Authority employees were
just the implementation costs of the defendants’ scheme to reallocate
the Bridge’s lanes—an incidental (even if foreseen) byproduct of their
regulatory object. Neither defendant sought to obtain the services that
the employees provided.

When a Court routinely criticized as sharply divided along ideological lines agrees across the bench, it demonstrates how egregious the prosecution of Baroni  and Kelly were.

The essence of Justice Elena Kagan’s opinion: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/31/2017: A Hate Outbreak, A Bigoted Judge, A Lost Post, And More Halloween Ethics

Good Morning!

1 On Facebook, many of my progressive friends literally expressed glee at yesterday’s indictments, especially at the charge that Paul Manafort had engaged in “conspiracy against the United States.” Lots of social media users were expressing similar sentiments, the thrust being that they were excited that two individuals who worked for the Trump campaign were facing criminal charges…simply because they worked for the Trump campaign. This cackling mob hadn’t read the indictment, or if they did, they didn’t understand it. They just were engaging in free-standing hate by association.

The reaction is not sort of like, but exactly like, what I called  the “Ugliest moment of election night”: Trump’s crowd chanting “Lock her up!” as the upset electoral victory approached. Criminalizing the political process is not the way of democracy, and rooting for people’s lives to be ruined because of their partisan alliances is disgusting. Who among the people so thrilled to see Manafort and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos being prosecuted know anything about them other than the fact that they worked for the President’s campaign? What do they think justifies cheering their indictment? Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about when he tried to meet with Russians claiming to have damning Hillary Clinton e-mails—which, I hope you know (and I bet the Facebook mob doesn’t) isn’t a crime.

Last night, Stephen Colbert, the full-time attack jester of “the resistance,” said of the indictments, “I know it’s almost Halloween, but it really feels more like Christmas!” What an idiotic and hateful thing to say, as well as a statement that is misleading to his audience, who naturally would think that the action implicates the President and the White House in something. (It doesn’t.)

2. Colbert also engaged in gratuitous race-baiting, because dividing the country along racial lines and promoting racial distrust is apparently what progressives think is funny and cool. Noting that the charges against Paul Manafort were filed on Friday but that he didn’t have to turn himself in until Monday Colbert smirked,  “Wow, we white people really do get arrested differently.” The “joke” is untrue, and racist in its own implications, suggesting that only whites commit white collar crimes and are regarded as low flight risks, while blacks commit the violent crimes and robberies that lead to immediate arrests.

These are ugly, mean-spirited people, poisoned by ugly, mean-spirited thoughts.

You can quote me.

3. Judge W. Mitchell Nance, a Kentucky judge, resigned after judicial ethics charges were filed against him as a result of his refusing to preside over any same-sex couple adoption cases. Nance announced that he would not  participate in  gay adoption matters in April, when he issued an order saying he was recusing himself from such case, arguing that adoption by a gay couple would never be in the best interest of a child.

The judicial misconduct complaint filed last month argued that Nance’s order violated the judicial ethics canons requiring judges to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, to be faithful to the law, and to refrain from showing bias or prejudice.

It does. Good riddance. Continue reading