By now everyone knows that a grand jury in Travis County, TX has indicted Gov. Rich Perry for abuse of power.
Everyone also knows that the indictment is bogus, that it is a political gesture designed to derail a potential Republican presidential candidate.
For a law professor’s view we turn to Alan Dershowitz. A notable liberal, Dershowitz never allows his political views to color his interpretation of the law.
So, what does the professor have to say about the Rich Perry indictment?
"This is another example of the criminalization of party differences," said Dershowitz, a prominent scholar on United States constitutional law and criminal law who writes the "Legally Speaking" column for Newsmax. "This idea of an indictment is an extremely dangerous trend in America, whether directed at [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay or [former President] Bill Clinton."
Further, Dershowitz said, such indictments are something that's done in totalitarian countries and should not be done in the United States.
In such countries, "if you don't like them, you indict," Dershowitz said. "In America, you vote against them...this should be up to the voters. There is no room in America for abuse of office charges, and this has to stop once and for all. This is a serious problem."
And indicting a politician, rather than fighting back through a ballot box, "is so un-American."
Dershowitz also told Newsmax Perry was well within his rights when he vetoed the money for Lehmberg's office, as he "saw a drunk serving as DA" who "shouldn't be enforcing criminal law."
Liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, a man less familiar with the law, makes a similar point:
Perry stands accused of violating two laws. One is a statute defining as an offense “misus[ing] government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant's custody or possession by virtue of the public servant's office or employment.” The veto threat, according to the prosecutor, amounted to a “misuse.” Why? That is hard to say.
The other statute prohibits anybody in government from “influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant to violate the public servant's known legal duty.”
But that statute also specifically exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.” The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.
The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves.
It is fair to say that in most of these instances of politicizing the criminal justice system, the accusers are leftists and Democrats. The Tea Party, whatever its merits and demerits, has not been criminalizing differences of political opinion.
It feels like a natural outgrowth of political correctness. And it shows that political correctness does not respect the rule of law but wants to impose its views on the nation, by whatever means.
And it is not new. It has been going on for quite some time now. Politicized indictments ended the careers of Tom Delay and Ted Stevens.
Surely, Dershowitz and Chait and those who have challenged this indictment are doing God’s work. And yet, nothing seems to be able stop those who want to pervert the criminal justice system to their political ends. How much of an outcry was there over the indictments of Tom Delay and Ted Stevens, both of which were later shown to be baseless?
Unless, of course, it becomes a political issue. Since Democrats seem to have monopolized this process, let Democrat candidates defend it at the ballot box.
All indications suggest that Rick Perry will lead this charge. If so, the indictment might very well backfire.