We must keep our eyes on the judges | AspenTimes.com

We must keep our eyes on the judges

John Colson
Hit & Run

There are so many facets of the U.S. “culture wars” that it’s hard to keep up without a scorecard, but it is clear that the ongoing controversies in the realm of judicial appointments are not only intensifying, they are becoming stranger and more militaristic in nature.

I note that a recent New York Times article focused on a guy named Mike Davis, a former aide in the U.S. Senate and at the White House who seems to frame his world view in terms of war, or at least in terms of pugilistic power.

Davis, who was instrumental in the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court justices Neil M. Gorsuch (2017) and Brett M. Kavanaugh (2018), has put together a new advocacy organization called the Article III Project, named after the article of the U.S. Constitution that established the nation’s newly minted federal judiciary in the late 1700s.

In keeping with our growing reliance on texting as the norm of our communication, the group’s name has been abbreviated to A3P, and was formally launched only last Saturday, May 18.

Interestingly, it is so new that Google searches for its name or its abbreviation turned up very little beyond turgid articles about the Constitutional Article III itself.

A search for Davis’ name turned up rather more stuff, including articles in the NYT and other outlets that quoted Davis as promising to “take off the gloves” and adopt a “brass knuckles” approach to judicial nominations.

Is this government by prize fight, or what?

This guy sure seems to qualify as one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in terms of the future of the United States government, and the militaristic references to his approach are ubiquitous.

Reportedly, Gorsuch referred to Davis as “the general” of the Gorsuch confirmation process, which attentive readers will recall was President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court horse out of the gate.

The Gorsuch nomination, we should recall, came on the heels of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of President Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who prior to being nominated had actually won accolades from Republicans and conservative legal scholars who almost universally said he would be an ideal Supreme Court justice.

McConnell, of course, refused to even hold hearings on Garland’s nomination, on the grounds that, well, there really were no grounds, other than the fact that that black man in the White House wanted him on the Court, and Republicans as a group were unalterably opposed to everything Obama wanted to do as president.

But, back to the A3P and Davis: A quick search of the web reveals that he worked in Denver at one point, and clerked for Gorsuch both before and after Gorsuch was nominated and confirmed.

Several articles referred to Davis’ pugnacious, even rabid style of advocacy, and praise for his work seems mostly to invoke his fighting prowess. After Gorsuch nicknamed him “The General,” Kavanaugh followed with his own rather weak offering, calling Davis “a warrior” in the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

Of course, Davis and his cult of right-wing followers have no difficulty rationalizing the Republican Party’s headlong rush to put radical right-wing butts on the bench in as many courtrooms as possible, against the party’s disgraceful conduct against Garland.

The main reason this paradox poses no problem for Republicans is simple — they don’t mention it, won’t talk about it if asked, and in general simply act as though the Garland nomination never happened. They are in it to “WIN,” and principles of government be damned.

I should point out that Davis also worked on the staff of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the most fervent boosters of Kavanaugh during the contentious hearing process last year.

Davis also is a veteran tweeter. He is credited with being a main force in keeping witnesses and information that undermined Kavanaugh’s credentials from being included as part of the record in the hearings, and his formidable tweeting during the Kavanaugh hearings has become the stuff of legend among the rabid right.

And now this arch-conservative cheerleader hopes to raise and spend millions of dollars in support of turning the federal judiciary into a bastion of anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-justice and anti-government decision making that will last well into the next century.

Some may view this all as “inside baseball” and irrelevant to our daily lives, but it’s not.

Judges can and often do make decisions that directly affect the lives of real people.

Take, for example, the recent decision by Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkleman, appointed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper, in the case against the alleged Lake Christine Fire incendiary shooters, Richard Miller and Allison Marcus.

This judge, by all appearances not a rabid right-winger or any other type of extremist, ruled that the prosecution in the case cannot mention the fact that signs posted at the Basalt gun range specifically banned the incendiary ammunition (known as “tracer rounds”) that Miller and Marcus admitted they were using when their shooting ignited the massive Lake Christine Fire last July.

His reason, according to news stories: there was no proof that the signs were official Colorado Parks & Wildlife announcements, and there was no proof that Miller and Marcus had seen and read the signs.


Who cares whether the signs were put up by the state or by the shooters who maintain the range, since it is a fact that tracer rounds are not to be used there?

As for the idea of proving the pair read the signs, what ever happened to the old legal philosophy “ignorance of the law is no excuse” for committing a crime?

An article on the lawyers.com website, in fact, specifically mentions arson as one type of crime for which ignorance cannot be a valid excuse, and the charges in the Lake Christine cases are felony arson.

I don’t know how this particular issue will be worked out, but one thing is clear — the actions of judges have direct consequences on the ground, and we should be a little more vigilant about the whys and wherefores of our judicial system.

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.