How not to write a constitution

I cannot deny feeling a growing sense of satisfaction at the rejection of the EU Constitution by French voters.  I know it’s a big setback to European integration, and that it’s ruined a lot of peoples’ days. I also know that a lot of the opposition to the Constitution came from very unsavory forces on the right and left.

But quite a large part of the rejection of the Constitution was due to public distrust of the ruling political class.  The distrust was earned; this class wrote a shitty Constitution.  Its 448 articles are the embodiment of the worst kind of opaque, abstract, consensus-clogged, untouched-by-reality thinking that European bureaucrats are capable of.  Let’s take, for example, Article III-122 (selected at random):

Without prejudice to Articles I-5, III-166, III-167 and III-238, and given the place occupied by services of general economic interest as services to which all in the Union attribute value as well as their role in promoting its social and territorial cohesion, the Union and the Member States, each within their respective competences and within the scope of application of the Constitution, shall take care that such services operate on the basis of principles and conditions, in particular economic and financial conditions, which enable them to fulfil their missions.

The average citizen, reading this provision (after slogging through the first 2 articles, which are long indeed), would be completely nonplussed.  First, he’d have to cross-reference all the four other cited provisions — no handy summaries here! — to even get an understanding of the scope of this provision. 

Then he’d think: "Umm, as far as I can tell, this article says that ‘services of general economic interest’ should ‘fulfill their missions.’"  What on earth is that supposed to mean?  Why is it worth a constitutional article to say something that is, at the same time, so vague and so obvious?  Then he’d begin to get suspicious…"maybe they’re using some weird code here.  I bet this article really does do something, something I might not like.  And these cowardly bureaucrats are too afraid to tell me directly what it is."

Here’s some free advice.  Scrap the current constitution.  Apologize to the voters for inflicting this monstrosity on them.  Have each of the Member States nominate one author or poet renowned for their spare, lucid prose.  Put this drafting commission into a room and give it 10 days to write a constitution.  Tell them it’s got to achieve the basic structural objectives of the Constitution (i.e. reforming the decision-making process, which really is a priority).  But it has to do everything in fewer than 100 articles, that will fit on fewer than 20 regular-sized pages.  Longest permitted sentence length: 25 words. 

Of course, half of the members of the drafting conference will leave in outrage.  Good — the smaller the better.  After you’ve got a draft, pick 100 people at random from Europe’s population.  Give each of them 100 Euro to spend a few hours reading the constitution, and ask them at the end if they were able to understand it (not whether they agreed with everything in it, just whether they were able to understand it).  If fewer than 80% say yes, start the entire process again.  Repeat as necessary. 

Of course, wise European bureacrats are now smirking at this suggestion: "Oh my dear Mr. Hammel, of course that could never work.  You haven’t the faintest idea how complex the whole process is."  But remember, these European bureacrats just brought you the existing European constitution, which is now only of interest as one of the biggest wastes of human energy and time in modern history. 

German Words of the Week: Eisprung & Nervensäge

It’s been a while since I brought you a GWOW, so now you get a twofer, courtesy of Anke Groener, who writes a pleasant, lively blog.  In this post, she complains about "female problems":

Anke nölt über die üblichen Eisprungbauchschmerzen: „Der weibliche Körper ist eine einzige Nervensäge.“

First, for comic effect, let me translate this sentence 100% literally:

Anke complains about the usual eggjumpstomachpains: "The female body is one single nerve-saw."

Now, a bit more idiomatic:

Anke complains about the usual ovulation pains: "The female body is nothing but a pain-in-the-ass."

Ovulation, for those of you who’ve forgotten your high-school biology, is the release of a mature fertilizable egg from the ovary.  The German version is, as usually, a fabulously colorful combination of two words: Eisprung or "egg-jump"!  And could anything better convey annoyance than the image of someone sawing at your nerves?  Almost too horrifyingly expressive, isn’t it?

French Voters Reject Constitution. Good for them.

So the EU Constitution has been rejected by a whopping 55% majority of French voters.  A few remarks:

  1. Germany decided against a referendum for its Constitutional vote.  Politicians from all major parties dismissed the idea of a referendum out of hand, with the justification (more or less) that you can never tell what the public might say, so we’d better not let them vote directly.  Good God, they could reject it!  This reminds me of an interview I recently saw with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.  When asked what, in his opinion, was his greatest achievement in office, he said (I’m here quoting roughly from memory) "making sure there would be no referendum on the adoption of the Euro.  If there had been a referendum, there’s no way Germans would have voted for it."
  2. Many will spin the rejection by saying "oh well, it’s just a reflection of French voters’ dissatisfaction with Chirac."  Which is true, to a significant extent.  But here’s the problem with that argument.  The Constitution has over 400 articles, and regulates things as trivial as holiday houses on Malta.  Almost no Frenchmen could possibly have understood the document in full; so they had to rely on what politicians, "experts", and intellectuals told them about it.  Which leads me to the next point —

Why did this document have to be so long that no ordinary voter could understand it?  I know the usual explanations: it was the product of a committee, various political compromises had to be made, national interests had to be taken into account.  Those are the usual excuses.  But they suck.  Succesful constitutions, by their very nature, need to be short, pithy documents that express the fundamental, basic values of a nation or community.  Like campaign platforms, or advertising campaigns.  Specific applications and details are to be left to the courts.

What is especially mind-boggling is that the drafters of the EU constitution, which is now pretty much dead, had so many wonderful examples at their disposal.  The American Constititution, which has survived over 230 years.  The French Code Civil, which is much more than a Constitution, it’s a unified set of laws governing almost every legal relation.  Napoleon required that it should be short enough that it fit into one book that every French citizen could own, and it had to be simple enough that he could understand it.  The German ‘Basic Law’ of 1949 is another wonderful example.  It fits into a small book, and the basic articles that ordinary citizens care about (i.e. that explain what the government can and can’t do to them) are all expressed in short, clear, beautifully vague sentences.

The European elites have just taken one to the balls.  French voters (and quite soon, Dutch ones) have looked at them and said "if this is the best you can do, go suck an egg."  Let’s hope they learn.  A short, lovely, idealistic, vague European constitution would have a chance, and would be a very good thing.

They tried to warn us…

Perhaps we should have listened to those condescending Europeans after all…

The Germany-aware blogosphere is twisting itself into knots over remarks made by German Ambassador to the United States Wolfgang Ischinger, which are reported in the most recent New Yorker:

"As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world…In the last year or so, as we’ve engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe–without shedding a drop of blood. So don’t preach to us. And don’t think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues–we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let’s solve the problem in the next four years!"

Belgravia Dispatch splutters with rage:

I mean, how many silly, tired, protest-placard stereotypes can the good Ambassador mutter on about in one short interview with the New Yorker? Or does he seriously believe Washington policymakers aren’t aware that democratization of Iraq isn’t a long, multi-year (perhaps generational) task? Or that people in the Beltway are unawares that, er, religious and cultural factors play a role in the Iraq effort? Has he followed the roiling debates about a Sistani or a Sadr amidst U.S elites and commentariat (whether in think-tanks, in newspapers, in the blogosphere, even, on occasion, on television)?

Well, I am an American myself, and I am quite certain that Washington policymakers do realize now that democratization of Iraq is a multi-year task. 

But, you know, I followed the pre-war debate very closely, and I never heard a single one of these important policy makers discuss — in any significant detail — exactly how they planned to transform this nation into a stable democracy.  Sure, I heard them mutter that it would take "years," and wouldn’t be simple.  I also heard them dismiss people who voiced Ischinger-esque doubts as worrywarts and naysayers.  But I never heard a coherent, detailed, responsible-sounding plan that, as Ischinger might have recommended, takes into account the history and culture of the country whose transformation was George W. Bush’s manic idea

Perhaps the lack of any coherent plan is why precisely the sage leaders the Dispatch mentions never gave the American people an even marginally realistic assessment of what the war would entail.  Before the war, I was waiting for Dick Cheney to say, in his famously fatherly and level-headed way, something like this

Listen, Tim.  We’re going to invade a mainly Islamic country with a collapsed infrastructure and no experience of democracy, and occupy it with  young Christian recruits, most of whom have never been outside the United States and almost none of whom speak Arabic.   Further, we’re not going to send enough of these soldiers there, ensuring that large pockets of the country become breeding grounds for a multi-year insurgency that will take thousands of American lives, bring Iraq to the brink of civil war, and ensure excellent on-the-job training for a new generation of terrorist recruits.  In short, we’re going to throw probably billions of dollars of taxpayer money, and thousands of American lives, at a problem most of our allies and the rest of the world have begged us not to create.  But don’t worry — eventually, one day, there’s gonna be democracy there.  What’s not to like?

Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t hear Dick Cheney make this little speechlet.  And if Belgravia Dispatch thinks the ballyhooed debates among various American policymakers led to a workable plan, perhaps he should take a look at the views of people who actually understand Arabic and know something about modern Iraq.  Start here.  Then move here.  Then listen to Ambassador Ischinger.  He has a point.

Hitler’s “State of Robbery”

A new book of history is provoking heated debate here in Germany, and I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce my readers to it.  It’s by a left-wing historian named Goetz Aly, and it’s called Hitler’s Peoples’ State: Robbery, Race-War, and National Socialism (my translation).  The main theses of the book are the following:

(1) The Holocaust was "the most conscientious mass robbery-murder in modern history," and served to enrich Germans and foreign collaborators.

(2) The exploitation of occupied territories actually contributed much more to the financing of the war than the German Reich itself;

(3) Inside the German Reich, the regime bought itself the support of a majority of the population by following an intentional "Robin Hood" policy of providing benefits to the lower classes at the expense of the rich; and

(4) The aggressive dynamics of national socialism sprang from a social-political promise ("A State for the People," "National Socialism") that could only be financially realized by Nazi seizure of the entire continent.

[Drawn from the excellent review (German) by Mark Spoerer of the University of Hohenheim, which can be found on the H-Soz-U-Kult Website]. 

You can read an English translation of an essay on the subject by Aly here, at the invaluable Sign and Sight website: "Anyone trying to understand the destructive success of National Socialism should look at the public face of the annihilation policy — the modern, cosy and obliging welfare state."

Aly is a well-known figure in Germany, some of whose previous books on the Nazi regime have been translated into English.  He’s a former students radical and Maoist who has, in the meantime, diverted his appetite for controversy into more scholarly channels.  When asked by a reporter for Die Zeit what the Goetz Aly of 1972 would think about the Goetz Aly of 2005, he responded: "You reporters sure do ask a lot of questions!" 

Aly’s book is provoking some chagrin on the German left, because it points out that some of the structures of Germany’s current social welfare state were originally introduced by Hitler.  It also drives yet another stake in the oversimplified Daniel Jonah Goldhagen thesis that fanatical anti-Semitism turned ordinary Germans into "Hitler’s Willing Executioners." 

According to what I have read concerning the book (final judgment will have to wait until I’ve read it myself), its main argument is that most ordinary Germans probably were only vaguely aware of many aspects of Hitler’s rule; they were delighted that someone had miraculously solved the country’s grave economic crisis, and were content to enjoy a state of relatively lavish material comfort in a world still suffering from economic depression.  There was no free press to tell them that this material comfort was being bought at the expense of systematic mass murder and robbery of German Jews and occupied countries.  Any troubling reminders to this effect that intruded on their consciousness could be, and were, safely ignored.

I find this thesis plausible, and generalizable to plenty of other cultures and situations.  And for that reason, much more disturbing than the idea that the Holocaust and the devastation of occupied territories was driven by the population’s allegiance to the National Socialist ideology.

Deduction Number 30: “The Penetrator”

As the title implies, this post will actually discuss the issue of tax-deductible sex toys.  You might say that I’m about to fill the holes in your knowledge with my penetrating analysis.  But first I just want to make sure nobody misses the fascinating debate raging in the comments section concerning the fitness of dowdy schoolmarm pioneering woman scientist Christian Democratic Party Chairwoman Angela Merkel as a candidate to be Federal Chancellor of Germany.  One commentator, a German who voted for Schröder in 2002 only "for cultural considerations (the fear of being overrun by Bavarians)" faces off against a non-German who cogently defends her.  Were my huge ego not in the way, I’d just let these fabulous commentators take over.  Please join their ranks, if you feel the urge!

But now to the tax-deductible sex toys.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent many an anxious hour worrying whether German tax police raid prostitutes’ homes to check whether their tax-deductible business dildos are being used for private pleasure.  I’m happy to announce that the answer is a resounding oh yesss! no.  In an recent article about how tax laws applied to German prostitutes the author notes in an aside: "Of course, a dildo procured for trade purposes may also be used privately."  (Zsteu Nr. 10).

Hat tip Edward Philp.

A Loudmouth for the Union

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry puts the upcoming French constitutional vote into broader perspective.  His essential point is that, although the rejection of the EU Constitution might be a short-term loss for EU fans, it signals a long-term trend of European residents actually beginning to pay attention to what the EU is doing:

[P]people are beginning to articulate their grievances with the EU as it is, and to propose alternative ways of doing things. Domestic political parties are beginning to align themselves with different models of what Europe should be. This wasn’t possible as long as Europe was a vague set of aspirations that political elites from left and right could agree on, but that the public didn’t care about. And it arguably lays the foundations for a much more robust European Union than has existed in the past.

One passage caught my eye in particular:

While EU policy is shrouded in technocratic gobbledygook, it has very substantial political consequences. Nor are these consequences what you might expect. The European Union is typically perceived by English-speaking non-experts as a vaguely social-democratic bureaucratic leviathan, in part because of criticisms from the British government and the British tabloid press over the last couple of decades. In fact, its most important impact has been to further neo-liberalism by creating European markets, and by wearing down the particularities of national economic systems that are incompatible with these markets. The European Union has taken over vast swathes of economic decision-making, and effectively taken them out of democratic control. It’s no wonder that people on both the left and right are beginning to get upset by this; what’s more difficult to explain is why it’s taken them so long to begin to mobilize their frustration.

This touches on a pet theme of mine: the ability of European institutions to project their image in the English-speaking world.  Aside from a few Euro-enthusiasts such as T.R. Reid or Jeremy Rifkin, the average English-speaker’s image of Europe, as a political entity, is determined by the British press, which whips up regular frenzies over isolated instances of Brussels-based Eurocratic excess.

The problem is that Europe’s response to these attacks is too, well, European.  Typically, the European spokesperson points out that the particular ordnance wasn’t accurately reported by [insert tabloid name here], that it serves an important purpose, and that it doesn’t even apply to Great Britian.  Perhaps he even promises to look into the matter. 

To Anglo-Saxon ears accustomed to bold attacks and sweeping claims, this barely registers.  What the EU needs is a rapid-response (perhaps even rabid-response)team headed by an aggressive, fearless debater.  Somebody who knows all the tricks of bare-knuckles political discourse.  Somebody who could say something like this in response to the Sun‘s latest expose of European toothbrush-width regulations:

Of course, the Sun is getting itself into a lather about some EU regulation or other.  It wouldn’t be Monday in Britain without that tired old story; looks like it must have been a slow news weekend.  Look, the real issue here isn’t one regulation or another, it’s about binding Europe into a unified market that draws on the strengths of its millions of educated residents.  What the Sun will never tell you is that Europe has made a lot of progress in this direction already and is firmly set on that road, Constitution or no.  Europe already offers the world a model of a economic progress with a social conscience, and will only grow in power and legitimacy in the next decades.  Britiain is welcome to keep going its own way, but we feel will eventually realize where its interests lie.  What the Sun is doing has nothing to do with helping Britons make up their mind about this important issue, and everything to do with flogging yet another tired stereotype.  Shame on them!

That would turn a few heads in Britain, I predict.  In the hallowed American tradition of convincing a company it needs to creat a post that only you can fill, I hereby apply. 

How you get a new Chancellor

How does Gerhard Schroeder get to determine when new elections take place?  By getting his own party not to vote for him, oddly enough.  Looks odd to those of us who don’t come from parliamentary democracies:

1.  The Chancellor first puts himself up for a vote of confidence before the Parliament.

2.  Members of the ruling coalition abstain from voting, resulting in the failure to sustain the vote of confidence by a parliamentary majority.

3.  This vote of no-confidence enables the Chancellor to ask the President of the Republic to dissolve the Parliament and call new elections.  The President is a sort of figurehead position currently inhabited by Horst Koehler, former head of the IMF.

4.  The President can dissolve the Parliament within 21 days, thus initiating new elections.

A nice little chart here (in German), Article 68 of the German Constitution (regulating procedure) here.  Of course, Schroeder hopes his coalition will win the new elections, but we’ll just have to see about that…

Who really won this election?

I don’t usually blog that much about German politics, but it would seem odd not to mention yesterday’s local elections, since they signal big shifts in the political order here.  Yesterday, the conservative Christian Democrats creamed the Social Democrat/Green coalition which governs the state I live, Northern Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).  This is a truly momentous result, since NRW is Germany’s most populous state, and had been ruled by the Social Democrats for over 30 years.  The Christian Democrats, under Jürgen Rüttgers, will shortly form a coalition with the Free Democrats (a small economically conservative/socially liberal party) and take over.  In the language of German politics, NRW will go from Red (Social Democrat)/Green to Black (Christian Democrat)/Yellow (Free Democrat). 

Social Democrat federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder sent out the party chairman, Franz Müntefering, to acknowledge defeat, which had been expected.  Müntefering also announced that the governing Social Democrat/Green coalition would request national elections at the soonest possible time, which was a total shock.  One TV commentator embarrassed himself by cutting away from Müntefering’s speech, which up to then had consisted of consoling platitudes, before Müntefering made the critical election announcement.

Schröder’s gambit with the election announcement is being hailed, rightly I think, as brilliant.  He’s immediately shifted attention away from the punishing defeat and made himself and his party look resolute and responsible.  ("Alright, you’re unsatisfied with the job we’re doing?  We’ve got the courage to let you vote on us right away.") 

Further, the short timescale leaves the Christian Democrats no choice but to put forward as Chancellor candidate their current chairwoman, Angela Merkel.  While she’s a capable politician, she’s kind of frumpy and not particularly popular.  She has neither Schröder’s dazzling speaking talent, nor the full-throated backing of her party, as witnessed by the fact that prominent conservatives have been assuring everyone in sight that of course they’ll be uniting behind Merkel and are quite happy about it, thank you very much.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine Schröder will survive.  Every stroke of political genius pulls off seems to add to the frustration people feel: if he’s so damn ingenious and clever why can’t he do a thing about Germany’s ghastly economic problems?  The words of some anonymous wag about Charles II of England come to mind: "We have a pretty witty King/whose word no man relies on/he’s never said a foolish thing/nor ever done a wise one."

If Schröder is replaced by Angela Merkel, which is what analysts very cautiously predict, there will probably be a distinct thaw in U.S.-German relations, since Merkel and her party (albeit very grudgingly and very quietly) supported the decision to go to war with Iraq.

A little more about the election, including a thrilling encounter with the General Secretary of The Party, to come.

Eurovision: Poland and Austria Fail Again

It’s here again — the Eurovision song contest! 

10 countries were selected in the semifinals yesterday, by many others were not.  Including the prizewinner in my own personal competition, for MSV ("Matching Sequined Vest") appeal.  Poland’s Ivan & Delfin ("Ivan & Dolphin") win here hands-down.   

Why were they rejected?  I’m no expert, but I would guess the accordion was probably fatal.  Even by generous European standards, mixing an accordion with faux-Elvistic matching outfits in the color of the Polish flag probably went too far.  I’ve no no idea what their song was called.  "Come back, Ljudmila, the Valley is Green"?  "The Mercedes of My Heart?"  More suggestions?  Anyone want to help me out here?

Now on to Austria.  It’s easy to mock the folk-tinged sequined vestiness of it all, but at least the Poles were giving it their all — "popping the cuffs," as Wayne Newton might put it.  Austria’s Global.Kryner, by contrast, clearly phoned it in:

The cherubic Austrian maedchen on the left is down with the Eurovision groove: she’s got something dirndl-esque on, and piles of makeup.  But who is the guy on the right?  It looks like he just stumbled out of bed.  He’s wearing a track suit, for God’s sake.  And playing a trombone. I can only hope and pray that he was a last-minute replacement, and couldn’t fit into the original singer’s lederhosen.  Possible song names: "The Beer Tastes like Your Kisses"; "Down to the Last Pfennig"

The Moldavian Repulic, however, made it through.  I will be rooting for them in Saturday’s final, for obvious reasons:

02_050519_moldau_2

German Professor Blog Update: The Lenz Blog

A few weeks ago I noted the distressing absence of blogs by German professors — whether in German or another language — from the blogosphere. 

In response to my challenge, a good friend of mine, Ralf Lesser, pointed me to a blog by a German professor, Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz, Professor at the prestigious Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.  His German-language blog appeared moribund.  Lenz, a highly sophisticated blogger and Internet guru, found out about my mention and notified me, in a comment, that he was continuing his blog in English.

I put in a blogroll link to it on my site, and visit it frequently.  It specializes in high-tech and copyright topics, and is written in clear, fluent English.  The Lenz blog will give you a lot to think about, vide the recent post on Google:

Two months ago, I had Google as the homepage of my web browser. It would have been fair to describe me as a fan of their service.

Now I have decided to shut them out completely from my website, which I declare a "Google-free zone". I have also started a new category on the blog with that title.

Dave Winer and Dan Gillmor also have expressed some reservations about Google lately. The reason why my reaction is much stronger lies in the fact that I have been opposed to any large-scale collection of Internet traffic data for years.

There is a heated battle going on about exactly this question right now in Europe. Enemies of freedom are gaining influence and want to turn the Internet into one big surveillance instrument. Under these circumstances, it is absolutely unacceptable to try building the world’s largest Internet traffic data collection under the misleading excuse of speeding up web surfing. This calls for active resistance to Google, which deserves to be put completely out of business for this move.

To implement my new policy of completely shutting out Google from my pages, I will change the license for my online content, make necessary changes in "robots.txt" and set up the Apache rewrite engine in my ".htaccess" file so as to serve "www.yahoo.com" to everyone who follows a link from Google to one of my pages.

As a consequence, I will lose all readers who came in from Google until now. Also the pleasure of looking at a completely inflated Google page rank for my blog will be gone.

That can’t be helped. In a conflict between losing readers and losing integrity, I have the luxury to choose integrity over reader numbers.

I had no idea.  Lenz understands a fearful amount about how the Internet can be abused to violated privacy, and is worth careful perusal.  I hope he doesn’t become aware of my blog, because I’m sure I’m not paying enough attention to security and will have my identity stolen soon.  I’d rather hang around outside and drink Beck’s than worry about this, but I’m glad someone else is more diligent.

On another note, Lenz discusses Japanese racism here, in the form of signs outside Japanese bathhouses saying "for Japanese only."  Well, Germany also has its racial blind spots.  As does the U.S

Racist Juror, New Trial?

Alright, this blog is mainly about Germany, but I reserve the right to update everyone about completely non-Germany related events once in a while, and here goes:

As some of you know, I represent death row inmates, as well as teach law.  It’s kind of a draining hobby, but I like it anyway.  Along with my co-counsel, the gifted Robert Owen of the University of Texas Law School (man, Rob, you need to get something more impressive up there), I represent a Texas death row inmate named Gary Sterling, who is waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear his case. 

Unlike many of my cases, this one’s pretty simple: the defense lawyer allowed a racist white juror to sit on the jury which would try Sterling, who is African-American.  The jury eventually convicted Sterling and sentenced him to death. We know the juror was a racist because he swore out an affidavit calling black people "niggers" and talking about how his black neighbors like to curse, drink and shoot each other. The defense lawyer, a white guy, actually knew the juror and knew him to be "racially prejudiced," but let him on the jury anyway, without even asking him any questions about his views.  The defense lawyer said he thought that his previous contacts with the juror would make him a good juror for Sterling despite the juror’s racist views.  We think that wasn’t really good enough, so we’re asking the Supreme Court to hear our case and give our client a new trial. 

Now we see that Timothy K. Lewis, a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, has taken an interest in the case and written an editorial for the Los Angeles Times.  You have to register to read it, so I’ll give you the money quote here:

[The lower] courts denied Sterling’s appeals, on the grounds that the defense lawyer had had "strategic" reasons for letting the biased juror serve. The attorney general of Texas, vigorously defending Sterling’s death sentence, resorted to arguing that the "mere use of the word ‘nigger’ " does not make one a racist.

This is ludicrous on numerous levels. But now, because no appellate court has had the courage to give Sterling the new trial he deserves, only the Supreme Court stands between him and the death chamber. The court is scheduled to consider Sterling’s request for a last appeal during its conference today.

Judge Lewis concludes:

The court has a chance to act on that concern by granting Sterling a new trial free of the taint of racism. If it fails to do so, it will send a message to African Americans everywhere that overtly racist views do not matter in assessing the integrity of a conviction and a death sentence. Whether he is innocent or guilty, Sterling’s fate should not have been sealed by a juror who regarded him as a "nigger."

Many thanks to Judge Lewis.  The Supreme Court will probably make a decision whether to take the case very soon, and I’ll let you know how that turns out.  If anyone wants to learn more about the case or how they can help us, just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to chat.