Justice Antonin Scalia loves to fulminate, the facts be damned. For all his haughty jeering at the logic and/or intelligence of those who disagree with him, his jurisprudence, often, is based not on rational argument or contemplation of the evidence, but shows like “24” and “Cops.”
At an international legal symposium in the June of 2007, for example, Scalia actually defended torture by invoking the heroics of Jack Bauer, whom he seemed to think is (a) a real person, and (b) morally and legally beyond reproach:
The Globe and Mail reported that Scalia came to the defense of Jack Bauer and his torture tactics during an Ottawa conference of international jurists and national security officials last week. During a panel discussion about terrorism, torture and the law, a Canadian judge remarked, “Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra ‘What would Jack Bauer do?’ ”
Justice Scalia responded with a defense of Agent Bauer, arguing that law enforcement officials deserve latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles . . . . He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia reportedly said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” He then posed a series of questions to his fellow judges: “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?”
“I don’t think so,” Scalia reportedly answered himself. “So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.”
And then there’s Scalia’s recent rant against his five SCOTUS colleagues who voted to tell California to cut its prison population, as the overcrowding in that gulag is grotesque, the conditions inarguably “cruel and unusual.”
Here’s some of what Scalia said in his vituperative dissent:
“Most of them will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness,” Justice Scalia wrote, “and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”
In his statement from the bench, Justice Scalia said that the prisoners to be released “are just 46,000 happy-go-lucky felons fortunate enough to be selected.” (The justices used varying numbers in describing the number of affected prisoners. California’s prison population has been declining.)
Does Scalia know what he’s talking about? No. (Does he ever?) So who does know something about California’s prisons, and this case in particular? Michelle Alexander. See her bracing counter-argument (countering Scalia’s type of racist fear-mongering) below.
Michelle Alexander on California’s ‘Cruel and Unusual’ Prisons
The author of The New Jim Crow says that it will take a grassroots movement to tackle our country’s addiction to mass incarceration.
On May 23, the US Supreme Court handed down a 5-4
decision ordering California to release tens of
thousands of inmates from its overcrowded prisons on the
grounds that their living conditions-including lethally
inadequate healthcare-were so intolerable as to be
“cruel and unusual punishment.” For years, California
has stored its prisoners like so many cans of soup;
stacked in cells or bunk beds in squalid conditions that
breed violence and disease. A 2008 NPR report on massive
overcrowding at San Quentin State Prison found 360 men
caged in what was once a gymnasium: “Most of these men
spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in the
gym,” NPR reported, describing it as “a giant game of
survivor.” The day before the Supreme Court ruling, four
prisoners were seriously injured at San Quentin when a
riot broke out in a dining hall.
Prison numbers have dipped in recent years, but with
nearly 2.4 million Americans behind bars, mass
incarceration remains a national crisis. In California,
home of a notorious “three strikes” law, parole
violations represent more than half of all new prison
admissions, and three of four prisoners are non-white.
It’s an extreme example of what has happened across the
Michelle Alexander, a former ACLU lawyer in the Bay Area
and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in
the Age of Colorblindness, has pointed out that the rush
to incarcerate has gotten so out of control that “if our
nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we
had in the 1970s, we would have to release four out of
five people behind bars.” Arriving in California for a
series of events just after the decision came down,
Alexander spoke to me over the phone about the ruling
and what it means.
3 Comments to “Some truth about California’s “cruel and unusual” prisons—and the antidote to Antonin Scalia’s poisonous delusions”
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