Two debates in today’s headlines are deeply concerning. In one, the underlying investigation is very important while in the other it is entirely irrelevant. So at first blush, they may seem unrelated. But in truth, they have a common and disturbing theme – disrespect of fundamental Constitutional rights that some believe frustrate justice or the search for the truth.
In Congress, important hearings are being held to determine if the IRS targeted conservative groups by delaying or denying them non-profit status. Amid these hearings, a Congressional Committee found Lois Lerner, an IRS employee, in contempt of Congress after she asserted her Constitutional right not to testify.
In the media, some question Hillary Clinton’s integrity because in 1975 she successfully represented an accused rapist as his court appointed attorney.
Under media pressure, Secretary Clinton responded to critics by saying, “When you’re a lawyer you often don’t have the choice as to who you will represent and, by the very nature of criminal law, there will be those you represent that you don’t approve of but, at least in our system, you have an obligation, and once I was appointed I fulfilled that obligation.” In a CNN interview, the prosecutor in the case, Mahlon Gibson, defended Secretary Clinton more bluntly – “If you are appointed by the court, you damn better do everything you can do to defend them.”
The fundamental underpinning behind Ms. Lerner’s refusal to testify and Secretary Clinton’s defense of a man many thought guilty, is the very fabric of America – our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In their entirety, these Amendments are a mere 462 words. Yet there are no more powerful words than those contained in the ten sentences that comprise the Bill of Rights. At issue with Ms. Lerner and Secretary Clinton are the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. They read in part:
No person shall be … compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…
In all criminal prosecutions … the accused shall have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense…
Our Founding Fathers did not ratify these out of thin air. In adopting the Bill of Rights, they wanted to assure that the oppression and suppression that caused America to fight its revolution for freedom would never be repeated. When anyone invokes these protections, it is not for use to be critical or judgmental. Indeed, it is reason to celebrate and remember that such inalienable rights do not exist elsewhere and are a blessing we must never forget.
So to Ms. Lerner, I applaud her right to assert the Fifth Amendment. Exercising that right is not for me – or Congress – to judge. It may make the job of Congress harder. It may delay the investigation and finding of some of the facts. But in a contest between efficiency and the Constitution, the Constitution must win.
As for Secretary Clinton’s successful defense of an accused rapist, I can only look upon that with the deepest appreciation of her role in not only defending someone accused of a crime, but also defending the Constitution by assuring the accused received an effective defense. As a former prosecutor, I can assure you that I admired no criminal defense lawyer more than those who understood the Constitution and defended it and their clients to the utmost of their ability. That’s what makes our system of justice work.
So my advice to Congress is to stop looking for scapegoats and get on with your job and for media to stop giving ink to critics who ought to be thankful that there are people like Hillary Clinton ready to defend them and preserve Constitutional freedom. Secretary Clinton and I differ on many issues, but on this one, we’re in complete alignment.