Columns » John Brummett

Give Huckabee liberal judges

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Has anyone else noticed that Gov. Mike Huckabee is pleading for activist liberal judges who would make rather than interpret law? And that his lawyer in this exercise of powerful irony is a stalled George W. Bush nominee to a federal judgeship? My reason for bringing this up, other than amusement value, is to advance the point that partisan rhetoric in the area of judicial activism is often built on a hollow foundation. Conservatives don't oppose liberal judges for being activist; they oppose them for actively ordering things the conservatives don't like. But let's say you could turn that around ... You are aware that the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the Arkansas public schools inadequate and inequitable and ordered a legislative remedy by Jan. 1. You are aware that Huckabee made the issue all about high school consolidation. You are aware that his was a brave and correct initiative, but one not specifically addressed by the court order. You are aware that the legislature failed to meet the deadline, then passed a measure for administrative consolidation of school districts with fewer than 350 students. You are aware that the governor found the number too low, got huffy and participated no further in the debate even as a highly touted new school funding formula and a one-cent increase in the sales tax were passed by unilateral legislative initiative. You are aware that the Supreme Court, huffy itself that its deadline got missed, re-invoked the jurisdiction it had previously surrendered. Then it appointed two former justices to be "masters" to assess the legislative actions and report to the court on whether they measured up to the court order. As Attorney General Mike Beebe was preparing to do his constitutional duty to defend the state's actions and its principal officers, Huckabee announced that he wanted his own lawyer. He said he didn't think Beebe, or anyone, could simultaneously represent defendants of such divergent positions as this governor and this Legislature. Huckabee hired Leon Holmes, a conservative lawyer and anti-abortion zealot whose pending nomination by Bush to a federal judgeship - where he could impose some conservative activism - has been blocked. A moderate Republican senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, got unnerved by some of Holmes' writings about how a man was to be the boss of the woman in the household, in the way the church is the bride of Christ. Beebe's office is arguing before the masters that the legislative actions were bold, substantial and equal to court assignment. Joining that opinion are the Benton and Rogers school districts, whose hired expert told the masters the other day that he'd never seen a set of new education policy initiatives so extensive as those enacted in our recent marathon special session by our gubernatorially abandoned and term-limited legislators. But Holmes, as Huckabee's personal lawyer, argued for the governor against the state. Holmes told the masters the legislative actions weren't good enough without more significant consolidation of school districts. Holmes and Huckabee want the masters to recommend that the Supreme Court impose more consolidation, presumably either by pre-emptive fiat or direct command to the legislature. While a meritorious public policy initiative, what Huckabee and Holmes request is nowhere mentioned in the court case. So, this Republican governor and his Bush-nominated attorney effectively want the court to usurp the legislative branch and make a different law from the one arising from the people's representative democracy. An activist court encroaching on the legislative branch's constitutional responsibility to make laws is a bad thing, you see, unless, that is, you happen to agree with what the court encroaches to impose. Again, modern American politics turns out to be more about momentary convenience than abiding principle. Finally, activist judges and glaring philosophical inconsistencies aren't really necessary here. The new funding formula and another measure called the Omnibus Quality Education Act would effect the consolidation Huckabee seeks, if he'll simply hold his horses and tell his Education Department to do its job.

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