Prison Radio
Kenneth Hartman

With the passing of the hard-right ideologue Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia, President Obama has an opportunity to shape and sharpen the debate in the coming presidential election. But he’ll need to resist the corporate interests of the so-called pragmatic Democrats, who are already preaching the appeasement strategy. This is the same strategy that’s left this country with the worst divide between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world, with a billionaire class rapidly buying up what’s left of our electoral system, and the criminal justice system that’s fundamentally unjust for the rest of us.

We don’t need another moderate Supreme Court justice!

Instead, why not nominate one of the many fine civil rights attorneys in this country? Maybe even one that didn’t go to Harvard or Yale. How about a public defender for a change? Go outside the box of former prosecutors to folks who don’t see abusing the awesome power of the government to crush individual rights as a necessary evil. Or, and this is really crazy I know, how about a non-lawyer? Someone who lives in the real world of how the law impacts real people in their real lives.

While we’re talking about this, isn’t it also time the Democrats started nominating younger people to the court like the Republicans often do? Why not candidates in their 40’s , who could reasonable expect to serve for 30 years? That’s been a part of the appeasement strategy, nominate older, pre-screened meaning part of the Ivy League, corporate interest approved, prosecutor network—and less ideologically-oriented judges.

From the perspective of prisoners, the momentary gains of the Earl Warren court, with its twin giants Thurgood Marshall (a former civil rights attorney) and William Brennen, both of whom believed that the Constitution was not a dead letter from our slave-holding forebears, those gains have mostly been eviscerated. Thanks to the late-in-life awakening of Anthony Kennedy some lost ground has been recovered, but we’ve still got miles and miles to go. The last thing we need is another moderate.

Of course, the death penalty, in all its grotesque forms, lethal injections and lethal terms of imprisonment, could, finally come to an end. The death penalty abolitionists’ bad bargain of trading one version of an execution for another, a pluperfect example of the perils of moderate thinking, could, finally, be exposed for what it’s always been and remains, wrong and unnecessary.

President Obama won two elections, harnessing the energy of millions of regular people who craved a real voice in the halls of power. He came in with a mandate to make real change. I believe he made a personal choice to seek common ground with the opposition from a place of good intentions, but I also believe he found out there is no common ground with the hard right—they play an all or nothing game.

Let’s not delude ourselves. Mitch McConnell and his gang of tailored suit-wearing street corner thugs aren’t going to confirm anyone. So, nominate a real liberal; don’t pull any punches. Provoke the right wing bloviation machine into overdrive. Watch them hyperventilate themselves into a froth as they expose their true feelings to the voters.

I learned a long time ago that there’s two ways to get someone to come clean—get them drunk or get them mad.

President Obama, stop playing for singles; try to hit this on out of the park.

But whatever you do, please, don’t nominate a moderate.