Thursday, October 13, 2005

'Astounding ignorance'

I can't help but blog again on the sudden prominence the issue of the death penalty is playing in the Virginia governor's race. Here's an editorial from the Roanoke Times:

If his television ads are to be trusted, Jerry Kilgore believes that
serving as a court-appointed attorney to a death row inmate disqualifies someone
from serving as governor of Virginia.

That demonstrates either astounding ignorance of the American judicial
system and the vital role played by defense attorneys in capital cases, or it
constitutes an offensive and vile attempt to manipulate an emotional issue for
base political gain.

Either way, Kilgore drags the governor's race to an insulting new low
with his attack on Tim Kaine's principled stance on the death penalty.

Kaine has repeatedly said that, while religious convictions lead him
personally to oppose the death penalty, as governor he would follow the law and
would exercise his clemency powers sparingly.

In an interview with The Roanoke Times Editorial Board this week, Kaine
explained that he is a pragmatist. He knows he cannot change the death penalty
culture in Virginia, but believes he can make a radical difference on other
issues of vital importance.

Kilgore, if elected, would also be faced with following state laws he finds
personally objectionable, such as those dealing with abortion. As Kaine has
said, governors don't have the luxury of picking and choosing which laws they
will follow.

Most voters trust Kaine to keep his word. A recent Washington Posts poll
found that 63 percent of Virginians said they trusted Kaine to uphold the law on
the death penalty.

Kilgore would like to erode that trust. He launched a series of ads that,
among other things, falsely accuse Kaine of saying he believed that not even
Adolph Hitler deserved the death penalty.

Kilgore based that accusation on an opinion essay in the Richmond
Times-Dispatch. But the Kaine campaign refuted that by releasing a transcript of
the interview that prompted the column. Kaine was asked if even people like
Hitler or Josef Stalin, who were responsible for the deaths of millions of human
beings, deserved to be executed.

Kaine said, "They may deserve it. Of course they may, for doing something
heinous. They don't deserve to live in civilized society. They deserve the death

One of the Kilgore ads features Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son and
daughter-in-law were murdered during a drug deal. Kaine represented their
murderer as a court-appointed attorney during a death-row appeal.

"Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son,"
Rosenbluth says in the ad. "He stood with murderers in trying to get them off
death row."

In a teleconference with reporters, Kilgore tried to step around the ad's
implication that death row inmates should not receive counsel. "Everyone is
entitled to representation, but not every activist defense attorney is entitled
to be governor of Virginia," he said.

So, a lawyer who takes three court assignments to represent death row
inmates suddenly becomes an "activist defense attorney" who can't be trusted to
uphold the law of Virginia.
Such demagoguery is reprehensible, and it betrays
a callous disregard by Kilgore for the rule of law that as state attorney
general he once took an oath to protect and defend.

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