Accusing lawyers who represent criminal defendants of being criminals themselves seems to be the GOP’s flavor du jour.
Some of you reading this will recall a truly despicable ad run by Mark Massa (now sitting on the Indiana Supreme Court thanks to Mitch Daniels) when he was challenging Terry Curry for the prosecutor’s office. The message was simple: Curry had once represented a criminal defendant, and was therefore unfit for public office.
Massa lost the votes of several Republican lawyers with that one.
A similar political attack advertisement is being used in South Carolina , where the Republican Governors’ Association has used it to target former prosecutor Vincent Sheheen – an attorney who now represents both civil and criminal clients in his private practice. (Sheheen happens to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina facing off against incumbent Nikki Haley.)
These attacks are deeply disturbing. If those running them actually believed that representing a criminal defendant is a sign of moral depravity (which I rather doubt), that belief would be evidence of a total lack of constitutional competence–a total ignorance of the due process guarantees of the Bill of Rights.
I don’t think the people who run these ads are that ignorant. I think the truth is far worse: they make political ads that employ these accusations because they believe the voting public is that ignorant, and because they are willing to play on that perceived ignorance–indeed, reinforce it!–for political advantage.
This is the same tactic that is routinely used against ACLU lawyers when they represent an unpleasant person whose rights are being violated. As I used to explain over and over, I can defend your right to read a book I wouldn’t read. I can defend your right to preach doctrine I believe to be evil. I can defend your right to hold bigoted opinions without sharing those opinions. I defend your rights because liberty is indivisible: the government that can take fundamental rights away from you is the same government that can take them from me.
Defending accused people is what lawyers are supposed to do. Otherwise, the system doesn’t work. If good lawyers are made to pay a political price for doing the right thing, fewer of them will do it–and justice will suffer.
This is one political tactic that should be beyond the pale.