Tag Archives: absolute immunity corrupts absolutely

Curbing (Abolishing) Official Immunity for Federal and State Officers: Executive, Judicial, and Legislative, following where Senators Sam Ervin & Strom Thurmond of North & South Carolina led the way

The “law” of absolute judicial immunity not only cannot be found in the Constitution nor in any statute, but in fact offends the Constitution and common sense, when articulated as follows:

     Judges enjoy absolute immunity from liability for damages for acts performed in their judicial capacities.  Immunity exists for “judicial” actions; those relating to a function normally performed by a judge and where the parties understood they were dealing with the judge in his official capacity. 
      The policy behind this principle is that judges must be free to act in a manner they view proper without fear of subsequent personal liability.  This rule is deemed essential to preserve judicial independence.  
       A judge’s errors may be corrected on appeal, but he should not have to fear that dissatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation charging malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on judges would contribute not to principled and fearless decision-making but to intimidation.
      The immunity afforded judges is quite broad and applies to all acts performed in the exercise of judicial functions. Judges are immune from liability even for corrupt or malicious acts. Liability exists only where a judge acted in the “clear absence” of all jurisdiction or performed an administrative task not embraced within the judge’s judicial duties.
Olney v. Sacramento Bar Association, 212 Cal.App.3d 807, 260 Cal.Rptr. 842 (July 28, 1989)(citations omitted).

Obviously, being a judge by these standards rights right up there with the Divine Right of Kings or even divinity itself!  Nice work if you can get it, I guess, but can we tolerate such immunity for judges, prosecutors, and even (effectively) for the police and other officers of executive and judicial function if we are to remain in any sense a free society?  “Jurisdiction” limits judicial power, as do doctrines of “judicial discretion”—but if immunity remains absolute, regardless, and only clumsy, indirect, highly technical, and cumbersome appellate remedies exist, do judges not in fact rise higher in the real power hierarchy of earth than all the gods of the Ancient Nile, Greek Olympus and Norse Valhalla combined, inferior only to the One Creator of the Universe, who for unknown reasons rarely intervenes directly in human affairs?

I oppose all sorts of official immunity: executive, legislative, and judicial, but I especially deplore and oppose absolute immunity for judges to take actions without jurisdiction which infringe upon or violate constitutional rights.  If elected to the United States Senate, I promise to fight vigorously to construe all civil rights laws to apply to judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, as well as to executive “police actions” and legislatively authorized derogations from the Bill of Rights and other fundamental constitutional protections.  I will work to strengthen and ensure the colorblind, race neutral, application and construction of 42 U.S.C. §§1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988, which the Courts currently only apply and construe in favor of African-Americans (and occasionally but atypically Hispanics or Asians) against Whites.   White Caucasian Americans must have equal rights to assert violations of their Civil Rights, even when the civil rights involve commercial,  contractual, or proprietary violations rather than race-based violations, but as I have often stated on this blog, I do contend that the judicial constructions of 28 U.S.C. §1443 and 42 U.S.C. §1981-1982 actually DO constitute race-based infringements upon the equal rights of White Caucasian Americans to invoke the provisions of these statutes in their own defense in cases of non-race-based discrimination and oppression under color of law.  But now on to the general concept of immunity, and the roles of Senators Sam Ervin and Strom Thurmond in fighting these concepts.

“POLITICAL PROCESS” labels the mechanism by which societies allocate decision-making authority.  “AUTHORITY” means “POWER”.  “POWER without CONSEQUENCES FOR ABUSE” defines “ABSOLUTE POWER”, and “ABSOLUTE POWER” equates (in societies possessing relatively well-developed judicial systems) with “ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY” from civil suit or criminal prosecution for official derogations, deviations, excessive use or application, infringement, or violations of any stated limits on power or action, especially when these result in the derogation, infringement, or violation of the rights or powers of others.   English Political language contains an ancient aphorism that “Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely.”  In my opinion, that aphorism needs to be expanded as a constitutional norm that “Absolute Immunity corrupts Absolutely.”  And the simple truth is that in modern America, both Federal and State Officers, Executive, Judicial, and Legislative, possess something very close to absolutely immunity for all crimes, torts, and violations of the constitution which they may choose to commit in their “official capacity.”  

This problem stands as a central focus of my life and career since at least 1995 when I first perceived that Family Court Judges in Texas possessed unreasonable power and discretion to infringe on the Constitutional rights of litigants in family court actions, and that the law itself, through such hopelessly vague concepts as the statutory power of Family Court Judges to rule “in the best interests of the child” when a marriage is “irretrievably broken” constituted a wild derogation from the constitutional norms of due process of law applicable in every other field.  “Best interests of the child”, and/or “irretrievably broken” as formally enacted statutory norms, constitute extreme legislative breaches and violation of constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, in my humble opinion.

On February 15, 2012, an opinion came down from a Florida District Court of Appeal which reversed a final decision rendered 19 days after my fiftieth birthday in 2010, on the grounds that “the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to render a final order disposing of the case.”  “A trial court lacks jurisdiciton to render a final order while an appeal from a non-final order in the same case is pending and, if the trial court does so, the final order is a nullity.”  “A trial court may proceed in a cause pending a non-final appeal and dispose of any matter not in form or effect interfering with the power and authority of the appellate court to make its jurisdiction effective, but the trial court may do so only short of final disposition.”  “This may all sound like legal gobbledegook to some…but jurisdiction is not a question a court can take or leave, and a judgment entered without jurisdiction is void.”  Many other aspects of this case offer promise and possess extreme interest to all who care deeply about the Constitution as a guiding light for the life of the United States of America, but those aspects must await the briefing of a Motion for Rehearing and, eventually, remand to the Circuit Court from whence this particular appeal arose.

In citing and quoting this very recent decision of an intermediate appellate court in Florida, I mean only to ask the question: should a judge so described by his immediate court of appeals not be held personally liable for acting in the complete absence of jurisdiction?  If his actions caused harm, why should any immunity at all attach to “judicial conduct” undertaken without jurisdiction, since “jurisdiction is not a question a court can take or leave, and a judgment entered without jurisdiction is void.”  

Only the bravest and most eccentric and idiosyncratic of all recent politicians have ever dared to confront the question of immunity head on.  Among these are Sam Ervin and Strom Thurmond.

The Senatorial career of North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin began and ended with questions of legislative and executive immunity, respectively, which rocked the nation between 1954 and 1974, respectively, namely the investigations into the conduct of Wisconsin Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy (1908-1957) and President Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994).  

Ervin’s 1954 role in leading to the censure of Senator McCarthy for making irresponsible allegations constitutes a curious (and effectively unique) abrogation of or exception to the most basic and fundamental concepts of “legislative immunity” in that McCarthy’s conduct which Ervin’s inquiry deemed “censurable” occurred almost entirely in the context of Senate Debate’s and proceedings, and consisted entirely of verbal conduct.  In that sense, McCarthy’s censure differed from all but one of the other nine censures rendered by the Senate in United States history, which mostly commonly have concerned non-debate related issues such as financial irregularities (Hiram Bingham 1929, Thomas J. Todd 1967, Herman Talmadge 1979, and David Durenberger 1990), physically fighting on the Senate Floor (Benjamin R. Tillman and John L. McLaurin 1902) and breaches of secrecy (Timothy Pickering 1811 and Benjamin Tappan 1844).  Of these eight, only Pickering’s conduct, a breach of secrecy during 1811, actually occurred on the Senate floor during Senate debates, and even so was only very vaguely comparable to the censure against McCarthy.  Senator Sam Ervin’s role in leading the censure of McCarthy is notable as the most severe censure ever for conduct almost clearly within the meaning of the Constitution’s Article I “debates” clause (protecting members of the U.S. House and Senate as “be[ing] privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”  In this connexion I consider Ervin’s role in prosecuting McCarthy historymaking: it shows (or at least suggests) that members of Congress must be held responsible for their role in obstructing or interfering with justice (and other constitutional rights) even while participating in senate proceedings.

As important and historical as Ervin’s early work with the investigation of Joseph McCarthy may have been), Ervin achieved immortality by his monumental and most memorable role on the world stage as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate, 1973-1974. Richard Milhous Nixon’s extremely ambiguous place in United States and World history began as a communist-baiter (in the House, largely contemporaneous with McCarthy’s in the Senate), but ended as a communist-appeaser (seeking “Detente” with the Soviet Union and beginning the “sellout” of America to Maoist China), whom the Senate (including Republicans such as Barry Goldwater) forced to resign because of a twisted and bizarre serial episode of abuses of Presidential power in connexion with the Watergate Scandal.  Senator Sam Ervin earned worldwide reverence as  advocate for the nation’s conscience while this writer was in High School in Hollywood, California.  Senator Sam Ervin’s final year in the Senate oversaw the collapse of the Nixon Presidency, in large part due to Sam Ervin’s commitment AGAINST Executive Privilege (as Nixon referred to his claim of immunity from prosecution or even inquiry regarding his domestic actions taken as President against American citizens in the name of National Security).  

As an aside, I pledge that if I should achieve election to the United States Senate—Senator Sam Ervin would serve as my role-model on almost every issue.  I would fight both legislative and executive immunity and simultaneously uphold the Bill of Rights against all legislative infractions including the “no knock” laws which Ervin fought, which have now become routine nationwide.  Ervin, like his South Carolina cohort Strom Thurmond, feared the advent of the Police State in America long before it became fashionable or even acceptable to do so among most of the Southern and Western U.S. Middle Class—who have a terrible habit of confusing and conflating their perfectly reasonable political opposition to cultural social change with a need for legal repression and suspension of the Constitution.   All constitutionalists must deplore such confusion and conflation, for without the Constitutional protections for our freedom, no hope remains for our traditional cultural or social norms whatsoever.

Now, ironically enough, everything that Nixon did (and covered up) during Watergate is now not only legal, in the aftermath of Federal “National Security” legislation passed in 1996-2011), but Nixon’s (and his White House staff’s) conduct and career of constitutional infringements and violations pales and seems of little consequence or importance compared with what President’s now have “statutory authority” to do.  The recent National Defense Authorization Act, in particular, provides legislative statutory authority for the president to order “indefinite detention” of “terrorists” which (as a pair of connected concepts subject to wildly abusive application) is exactly analogous to the vaguest provisions of family law mentioned above regarding judicial authority to rule and render in the “best interests of the child” whenever a marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

I have in any event focused on the career of North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin because he was one of my first “media heroes” and I first dreamed of studying and applying myself to the resuscitation of American Constitutional Law while watching him preside over the Watergate hearings.

Less known and less famous (and much less politically correct in the modern context) to celebrate is Senator Sam Ervin’s role as the co-author of the “Southern Manifesto” with Senators Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Richard Russell of Georgia.   The “politically correct” way to look at this document requires calling it a reactionary racist response to Brown v. Board of Education and the subsequent orders of the Supreme Court of the United States requiring school desegregation.  But forced desegregation and integration caused social chaos, first in the South, and only slightly later in the North, causing murderous race-riots even in such “liberal” citadels as Boston, Massachusetts through the mid-1970s.   Just as I have often observed that Brazil never experienced anything approaching the level of racial hatred or tensions known in the United States, precisely because emancipation took place gradually and without force there in the Brazilian Empire (and in fact in every nation of the Americas EXCEPT first Haiti and then the United States), the use of force to accelerate the implementation of social change is almost always destructive.

The authors of the Southern Manifesto saw this destructive waive being unleashed by the Supreme Court in America, and they also perceived, correctly, that pitting black against white constituted a means of destabilizing society and increasing the power of the Federal government (in particular) over the people, and of accelerating the empowerment of the police state.  

The authors of the Southern Manifesto against forced school-integration rightly focused their criticisms on Chief Justice Earl Warren.  

As I like to point out, Earl Warren’s life-long commitment to civil rights manifested itself early on in his career as Attorney General and Governor of California when he supervised the hateful and purposeless, in fact counterproductive, internment of hundreds of thousands of (as the newsreels of the time and even early “Batman” movies recited over and over again) “shifty-eyed Japs”, the Second Generation or “Nisei” as they called themselves during World War II.  

In any event, Senators Sam Ervin and Strom Thurmond led the ultimately failing Southern Resistance against Earl Warren’s Court and what became, effectively, America’s Second “War Between the States”, although this time more ink spilled in the Courtrooms than blood on the streets.

For purposes of this present topic of immunity, I will end with my repeated hymn of praise to Senator Strom Thurmond for his crafty drafting of the 1996 Amendments to the Civil Rights Action, 42 U.S.C. §§1983, 1988(a).   The United States had handed down its most dramatic and emphatic “anti-Judicial Immunity” opinion in 1984, in the decision of Pulliam v. Allen, which has been my personal favorite Supreme Court decision for more than a quarter of a century now.  Pulliam v Allen 466 US 522 104 SCt 1970 80 LEd2d 565 (May 14 1984).  In 1996, Strom Thurmond proposed a relatively minor amendment to 42 U.S.C. §§1983 & 1988 to clarify the application of this provision to judicial officers.  Under Thurmond’s leadership, Congress amended the Civil Rights Statute to clarify that judges would only be liable for judicial actions taken “clearly in excess of jurisdiction” in the statute, and this language exactly tracks Justice Blackmun’s language in his opinion in Pulliam v. Allen (footnote 12) which reviews the tradition of limiting judicial immunity to matters “clearly within their cognizance” or “clearly within their jurisdiction”, in full (Blackmun here was in fact quoting Blackstone!).  Writing of the Judges of England, Blackstone in Volume 3 of his commentaries at pages 112-113 stated that if these Judges,

in handling of matters clearly within their cognizance, they transgress the bounds prescribed to them by the laws of England; as where they require two witnesses to prove the payment of a legacy, a release of tithes, or the like; in such cases also a prohibition will be awarded. For, as the fact of signing a release, or of actual payment, is not properly a spiritual question, but only allowed to be decided in those courts, because incident or accessory to some original question clearly within their jurisdiction; it ought therefore, where the two laws differ, to be decided not according to the spiritual, but the temporal law; else the same question might be determined different ways, according to the court in which the suit is depending: an impropriety, which no wise government can or ought to endure, and which is therefore a ground of prohibition. And if either the judge or the party shall proceed after such prohibition, an attachment may be had against them, to punish them for the contempt, at the discretion of the court that awarded it; and an action will lie against them, to repair the party injured in damages.

The Southern Manifesto co-authored by Sam Ervin & Strom Thurmond (and Richard Russell?) did not expressly cite Blackstone but began:

The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked power for established law.  The Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution of checks and balances because they realized the inescapable lesson of history that no man or group of men can be safely entrusted with unlimited power. They framed this Constitution with its provisions for change by amendment in order to secure the fundamentals of government against the dangers of temporary popular passion or the personal predilections of public officeholders.”

The consequences of this language include the assertion that public officeholders (including judges) must be liable for the consequences and injuries caused by their derogations from and violations of “established law.”  Just as in the recent Florida case decided above, where a judge enters a decision in violation of well-and-long established law relating to jurisdiction and scope of authority, that Judge renders nothing but a personal statement with personal consequences, for which that Judge should be personally liable.
I ask here: should any Judge enjoy immunity from prosecution for civil rights violations and/or suit for civil rights violations when that judge violates the letter of the Constitution, especially when a litigant points out that violation to the Court and no excuse (such as a Constitutionally declared war or surprise invasion) exists to suspend the Constitution temporarily…. and temporarily only… I have often had occasion to refer to 1996 USCCAN 4216-4217 which affirms that these amendments do not establish absolute immunity for judges.  I submit that Strom Thurmond authored the 1996 Amendments to the Civil Rights Action to ensure that Judges (like Chief Justice Earl Warren) could and would be held liable for their actions taken “clearly in excess of jurisdiction.”  Unfortunately, to date, neither the State nor Federal Courts have recognized the importance of these amendments, and continue to enforce Absolute Judicial Immunity.
The doctrine of “qualified immunity” also arose out of Watergate, particularly in the case of Mitchell v. Forsythe, 472 U.S. 511 (June 19, 1985) in which the Supreme Court limited former Attorney General John Mitchell to merely “qualified immunity” rather than “absolute immunity.”  Oddly enough, the standard the Supreme Court applied to the Attorney General of the United States involved a determination of what a “reasonable person” would know about the law (reasonably or unreasonably, most people in the United States today know almost nothing about the law, which explains why lawyers run amok and control the country).  Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Attorney General of the United States would enjoy qualified immunity, “so long as his actions do not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
         Rather unsurprisingly, in practice, interlocutory appeal of any and every trial court determinations of qualified immunity plus a very pro-defense, anti-plaintiff judiciary means that even for prosecutors and police officers, “qualified immunity” is difficult to distinguish from “absolute immunity.” 

I know that my critics often accuse me of writing overly long-and-windy commentaries on my blog, and I suppose this will constitute one of my more offensive pieces.  I submit that the American public have become too used to short sound bytes and non-analytical thinking, and I hope I can encourage a more “in depth” and historically-based approach here.

Regarding legislative immunity, I recently discovered a very interesting and historically based article by a journalist name Chuck Murphy (Colorado Constitution and History of Legislative Immunity):

Murphy: Colorado’s legislative immunity rooted in 17th century England

Blame it on King Charles I.

He dissolved Parliament, made Oliver Cromwell famous and is as responsible as anyone for the get-out-of-jail-free card Rep. Laura Bradford of Mesa County used last week.

Bradford, R-Collbran, was pulled over Wednesday night on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after a Denver officer saw her make an improper lane change. But after failing a roadside sobriety test, Bradford mentioned that she was on her way home after a legislative function at a Colfax Avenue bar.

Those were the magic words.

Article V, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution says:

“The members of the general assembly shall, in all cases except treason or felony, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, or any committees thereof, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either house, or any committees thereof, they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

That’s where Charles comes in.

By the time he took the crown in 1625, England had a robust Parliament and Charles was determined to put them in their place. He declared the divine right of the king to rule as he chose, and, after a series of confrontations, dissolved Parliament. Four years later, he did it again — and this time, he put much of the body’s leadership in prison. He was eventually defeated by Cromwell and lost his head — literally.

Say this for Brits — they have long memories.

It was 60 years later when Charles’ second son, James II (Dismal Jimmy), ascended to the throne. He wanted to impose Catholic rule on a deeply skeptical nation, and it did not go well. Within four years, he was deposed by his daughter Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. They are better known today as William and Mary.

Parliament had invited them to take over, but with certain conditions, partly based on the naughty behavior of Charles I. One of those was the 1688 Bill of Rights, which said in part:

“That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;

“That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal;”

And…

“That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”

A couple hundred years went by before 1876, when Colorado was working on its latest version of a state constitution designed to get us admitted to the union. By then, we had the U.S. Constitution and the work of several other states to crib from, including an 1859 effort from Kansas:

“For any speech or debate in either house, the members shall not be questioned elsewhere. No member of the Legislature shall be subject to arrest — except for felony or breach of the peace — in going to or returning from the place of meeting, or during the continuance of the session; neither shall be he subject to the service of any civil process during the session, nor for fifteen days previous to its commencement.”

Look familiar? It all leaps right out of 17th-century England.

Now, say what you will about Gov. John Hickenlooper — he is impetuous, and he does on occasion show signs of a temper — but he is not about to lock up members of the legislature, not even the House, if he doesn’t get his way. I’m certain of it.

These immunity clauses exist in a majority of state constitutions today (legislators know a good thing when they see it). Arizona has discussed getting rid of theirs after their former Senate majority leader avoided arrest on a domestic-violence charge by invoking legislative immunity. His girlfriend was arrested while he went home, provoking well-placed outrage.

Legislators have no right to any protections not enjoyed by every other citizen, period, and most don’t avail themselves of this constitutional provision anyway. Even Bradford denies that she intended to avoid arrest by mentioning where she was coming from.

So who in Colorado’s legislature will take up the charge to rid our constitution of this anachronism? We amend the document all the time, with mixed results, but this seems like a no-brainer in an election year.

All it takes is a proposal to get it on the ballot. A majority of Coloradans just might go along.

Chuck Murphy: 303-954-1829, cmurphy@denverpost.comortwitter.com/cmurphydenpost

Read more:Murphy: Colorado’s legislative immunity rooted in 17th century England – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/murphy/ci_19849376#ixzz1mpThOiJt
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