Tags: New | Yorkers | Win | Conyers | Threatens | Impeachment

New Yorkers Win, Conyers Threatens Impeachment

Thursday, 07 September 2006 12:00 AM

Last week, I received a phone call from Fritz Schwarz. When I was mayor, I appointed Fritz to be Corporation Counsel of the City of New York – in effect, the city's lawyer. Currently, Fritz is one of the leading lawyers for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

"We won!" Fritz told me. I knew he was referring to a case that had been on appeal before the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court. The case had been argued several months ago. At Fritz's request, I had filed a brief as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in support of a plaintiff who was seeking to challenge the procedures under which Supreme Court judges are elected in the state of New York.

In New York, the title "Supreme Court" is somewhat misleading. It is not like the U.S. Supreme Court, which is a court of appeal – the highest such court in the land. In New York the Supreme Court is the court of general jurisdiction where trials are conducted, from which appeals are later taken to higher courts, namely, the Appellate Division and ultimately, the Court of Appeals.

The law that the Brennan lawyers were seeking to overturn created a mechanism called the "Judicial Convention," whose members were elected in primaries and who selected the candidates for the office of Supreme Court judge for each political party. For all practical purposes and rarely otherwise, the convention delegates are under the political control of county leaders. There are few real contests.

I know something about how the system works, having been elected Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village in 1963, defeating Carmine DeSapio in a primary by 41 votes. Carmine was seeking to regain the position of Democratic District Leader so that he could resume the more powerful position of Democratic Leader of New York County.

I offered the Circuit Court my opinion in a superb brief prepared by Bruce S. Kaplan, Gaurav I. Shah, Laurence D. Borten and Jonathan Gottfried of the law firm Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman, LLP, whose services were provided pro bono.

We all wanted to strike a blow for the voters in each party, who were deprived by the existing law of the opportunity of directly electing a candidate for the office of Supreme Court judge. In effect, the choice was being made for them by the County Leader. The judicial selections of the County Leaders were never on the basis of merit. Instead, their selections rewarded political services rendered to the party organization, with selections often determined by a quota system involving race, ethnicity and gender.

In the trial court, U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson found that "the plaintiffs have demonstrated convincingly that local major party leaders – not the voters or the delegates to the judicial nominating conventions – control who becomes a Supreme Court Justice and when." He further stated, "The result is an opaque, undemocratic selection procedure that violates the rights of the voters and the rights of candidates who lack the backing of the local party leaders."

The relief provided by Judge Gleeson requires that "Until the New York legislature enacts another electoral scheme, such nominations shall be made by primary election."

How sweet this victory is for the people of New York. Equally satisfying was the affirmation of the decision on appeal by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Legislature can now put into effect a new system, such as the current convention requirement for the selection of the officers of governor, comptroller and attorney general. But in my opinion, it should institute a simple primary, as also exists for those state public offices.

The people are entitled to a choice. This victory would never have been possible without the intervention of the courts. I believe the Legislature would never on its own have reduced the power of the county leaders by taking away their right effectively to select the Supreme Court judges of the state of New York. Now I believe it will.

In my commentary of August 29, I wrote, "One Congressional Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, announced his intention to impeach the President when Republicans lose control of both houses of Congress." I subsequently received a call from a member of Congressman Conyers' staff who said I was wrong to state that the congressman was calling for the impeachment of President Bush. He referred me to the congressman's House Resolution 635, introduced on December 18, 2005, which contains the following language:

"Creating a select committee to investigate the Administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment."

I served with John Conyers Jr. in the House of Representatives for nine years, from 1969 through 1977. I respect him as an able and honorable member of Congress. I had no intention of misrepresenting his position on the issue of impeaching President Bush. I went back and read the statement he made at the time he introduced Resolution 635. He said:

"It is time to take bolder measures in our pursuit of justice. This White House has responded to questions about its conduct with misleading statements, obfuscation, and vicious attacks against their critics. We must take the next step towards restoring accountability in our federal government. To this end I have I am calling upon Congress to create a select committee similar to the Ervin Committee, which investigated President Nixon's Watergate crimes. This select committee would investigate the Administration and its intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, and retaliating against critics. This administration must be held accountable for its misdeeds."

I researched the material in Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia. In part, Wikipedia's entry on John Conyers states: "On June 16, 2005, Conyers assembled an unofficial meeting to receive evidence related to the Downing Street memo and to consider grounds for impeachment. Dozens of Members of Congress attended. Witnesses included Ambassador Wilson, constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, and CIA analyst Ray McGovern. On December 20, 2005, the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff, at Conyers' request, filed its 273-page report, The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War. The report included copies of house resolutions to establish a bipartisan Select Committee in the House – H. Res. 635; to censure the President – H.Res. 636; and to censure the Vice President – H.Res. 637."

Wikipedia reports further, "As of May 18, 2006, according to the Washington Post, Conyers' current position regarding impeachment of the president is ‘... rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses.'"

It appears from Conyers' language that he has at different times proposed impeachment, censure and finally "comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses."

If, in fact, President Bush were guilty of the alleged abuses, he would deserve to be impeached. I believe that John Conyers, with these attacks on the president while the country is at war, is doing a disservice to the country, but of course, he has the right to do that. The people of Michigan who re-elect him regularly undoubtedly agree with him in large numbers.

But they are wrong to wage political war demeaning the president who is waging a military war on terror on behalf of the U.S. and all of Western civilization.

Finally, I submitted this statement to Congressman Conyers' staff person asking for his comment, and I received the following response:

"Thanks for looking at this. I think the only factual point I would dispute is the Wikipedia statement that the June 16 hearing was held ‘to consider ground for impeachment.' That was not the purpose of the hearing and is not accurate, as you know Wikipedia is an open-source system that does not fact check. Anyway, thanks for your diligence on this point."


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Last week, I received a phone call from Fritz Schwarz.When I was mayor, I appointed Fritz to be Corporation Counsel of the City of New York - in effect, the city's lawyer.Currently, Fritz is one of the leading lawyers for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York...
Thursday, 07 September 2006 12:00 AM
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