April 06, 2005
Cornyn backs away

So Senator Cornyn has now revised and extended his original remarks.

Cornyn tried Tuesday to stop what he called the misrepresentation of a speech about the judiciary that he made on the Senate floor a day earlier.

With the criticism of his comments escalating throughout the day, he returned to the Senate floor late Tuesday.

"We should all be disturbed by overheated rhetoric about the judiciary from both sides of the aisle," he said. "I regret it that my remarks have been taken out of context to create a wrong impression about my position, and possibly be construed to contribute to the problem rather than to a solution."

He said he had not meant that attacks on judges or their families could be justified.

In the original remarks, he questioned whether recent violent strikes against federal judges were the result of jurists' issuing political rulings.

After pointing out the "increasing politicization of the judicial decision-making process," Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said he wondered "whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence, certainly without any justification."

Tuesday night on the Senate floor, he attempted to clarify those earlier remarks.

"I want to make one thing clear," Cornyn said. "I'm not aware of any evidence whatsoever linking recent acts of courthouse violence to the various controversial rulings that have captured the nation's attention in recent years."

I've read the full text of Cornyn's original statement. It's true, he never mentioned Terri Schiavo. The bulk of what he said was criticism of a couple of recent decisions, including the Supreme Court ruling on executions of juveniles. It doesn't make what he said any less stupid or offensive, not to mention completely irrelevant to his intended point. Cornyn is smart enough to know that what he said about the "perception" of a connection between unpopular decisions and violence or threats against judges would be incendiary. He chose to say it anyway, and he deserves the thrashing he's taken for it.

I must say, if Cornyn were really concerned about retribution against judges, there are a number of things he could have done. He could have denounced all the overheated rhetoric we've been subjected to since the Schiavo case, something which he has now at least addressed by distancing himself from Tom DeLay's "they will pay" statement. Of course, doing so would have meant attacking a nontrivial segment of the Republican base. No Sister Souljah moments for him! He could have announced an intention to introduce legislation that would broaden protections for judges against that kind of threat and intimidation. He even could have simply skipped over his offensive speculation about cause and effect and talked more about his time as a judge and the unpopular decisions he had to make, maybe drawing a distinction between decisions that are unpopular because they stick to the law and decisions that are unpopular because they are "activist", whatever that means to you.

But he didn't do that. I'm glad to see that he's apologized, but it's not enough. I stand by what I said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 06, 2005 to National news | TrackBack

I thought Dem Chair Soechting's letter to Cornyn was particularly cogent and showed the right tone for this unprecedented attack by a former Texas Supreme Court justice and sitting member of the Senate Judiciary Cmte:

"Soechting... asked Cornyn, a former Texas judge, to clarify his remarks 'in the interest of protecting our individual judges and our judiciary as a whole from violence at the hands of anyone who might misconstrue your message.'"

This is serious business, intimidating judges.


Posted by: Gus Rinaldini on April 6, 2005 10:37 AM

Cornyn talked a lot more about the influence of foreign courts to inform and influence US law.

There's no greater example of this than the loss of sovereignty in local jurisdictions inherent in the free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the GATT.

Cornyn appears to be most upset that the US can no longer put minors to death, but whether he realises it or not, he's also railing against free trade.

Posted by: citizen Able on April 6, 2005 11:19 AM

I'm glad to see that he's apologized

Wait a minute! Did I miss something? Where was the apology? All I saw was Cornyn blaming you and me for taking his comments out of context to create a "wrong impression." That's not an apology or a retraction.

Posted by: Mike Thomas on April 6, 2005 12:51 PM

That's no apology. That's just a variation on that old Fright Wing standard "you kneejerk libs are putting words in my mouth! I'm so misunderstood."

While the audience to whom he's playing gets the original message loud and clear, with a side order of "see, those commie pinko bastards are out to get us."

At this point, I say they better be right.

Posted by: Boadicea on April 6, 2005 3:16 PM

"he could have...talked more about his time as a judge and the unpopular decisions he had to make"

Hmmm... I doubt his decisions as a judge were too often going against any idea of what was most popular. The Texas Supremes being an elected bunch, he was probably most worried about figuring out what was most popular to republican primary voters and contributors.

Making "unpopular decisions" is taken to mean that you uphold the law as a principled jurist in the face of adverse popular opinion. Since Texas judges are elected and take contribtions from those who argue in front of the bench, can we call any of them "principled jurists"?

Cornyn's Senatorial rhetoric likely shines alot of light on his old judicial opinion writing process. If there was a principled jurist there, it just scurried under the cabinets.

Posted by: Cynthia Douglass on April 6, 2005 3:19 PM

It sure would be nice if, when someone was apologizing, they would just say "Sorry, I said something stupid." If you are a politician and you are on stage at all times then chances are you are going to say something stupid at some point. He sounds like a pro athlete.

Posted by: snrub on April 6, 2005 6:03 PM