Should Rick Perry stand trial?

I say yes, the charges have merit, and the case should go to trial.  (Caveat:  All defendants, including Republicans, are entitled to be presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.)

Perry insists he did nothing wrong.  He told Fox News yesterday (quoted by CBS News), “This is not the way that we settle political differences in this country.  You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.”  (I’ll come back to this momentarily.)

Republicans all over the country rallied to his defense, calling the grand jury indictments a “political witch hunt.”  Perry even enlisted a couple of prominent (self-described) Democrats behind his theme that this is a venal, meritless, politically motivated prosecution.  (Not that Republicans ever do this to their real and perceived enemies, eh?  See, e.g., the Wisconsin election worker they railroaded to prison for doing her job.)

That’s bullcrap.  (Or “cowpies,” if you prefer.)  Here’s why:

Reason #1:  Perry claims he properly acted to remove a misbehaving D.A.  But he didn’t remove the D.A.; he couldn’t, because Texas law doesn’t give him that power.  He obstructed an independent investigation into alleged corruption by his party and administration by eliminating all the funding for the state’s ethics police.

Reason #2:   Perry tried to coerce the D.A. to resign.  Whatever the legal process in Texas is for removing misbehaving D.A.s, this isn’t it.  No matter how pure his motive was, coercing another public official to resign her office isn’t a proper exercise of power, nor an exercise of any authority the Texas governor has under the state constitution and statutes.  In fact, the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime.

Reason #3:  As Perry himself points out, the primary responsibility for who occupies elected offices rests with voters and the ballot box.  Our system has procedures to remove elected officials between elections, such as impeachment or recall, but these are extraordinary remedies for extraordinary situations, and come with a high bar to satisfy.  I don’t know what the procedure is for removing a D.A. in Texas, but that’s beside the point.  She was elected by the voters of Travis County and it’s not Perry’s prerogative to co-opt all those voters by substituting his judgment for theirs and overriding their 115,000-plus votes for this candidate with his one vote against her.  If she’s a lousy D.A., let the voters throw her out in the next election (or in a recall election, if that option is available).  That’s their prerogative, and not his.

Reason #4:  Perry and his supporters argue that he merely played hardball politics against a political rival.  But if you follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, hardball politics includes assassinating your opponents (see, e.g., the history of Afghanistan).  We shouldn’t let our politics go there.  We should put limits on “hardball.”  And Texas law does.  It says you can’t coerce or oppress your political rivals.  Whether Perry crossed that line is a question that should be decided in a court of law, not on the Sunday talk shows or in political blogs, and it should be decided according to whether the facts of the case (as proved at trial) satisfy all of the required elements of the crime of coercion as defined by the Texas Penal Code, not the subjective opinions of Rick Perry, his supporters, media pundits, or political science professors.

Reason #5:  The simple response to the claim that these indictments are nothing but a political witch hunt is that (1) a Republican judge reviewed the complaint and concluded it had sufficient merit to warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor, (2) the special prosecutor reviewed the complaint and concluded it had sufficient merit to submit the charges to a grand jury, and (3) the grand jury reviewed the evidence and concluded the evidence was sufficient to warrant indicting their governor.  The notion that all these people colluded together in a politically motivated conspiracy against the governor is preposterous on its face.

Reason #6:  If you take the tack that the Texas Penal Code is preposterous for criminalizing what many people consider normal political behavior that is commonplace everywhere, take that up with the Texas legislature.  (Which, by the way, is dominated by Republicans.)  They passed these laws.   They had their reasons.  Or not.  It doesn’t matter.  If it’s against the law, it’s against the law.  If Perry takes issue with what the law is, he can appeal a conviction on grounds the law is unconstitutional.  But that comes after a trial, not before.  It’s not an argument for saying there should be no trial.

Reason #7:   Here’s the biggest reason of all why Rick Perry ought to stand trial.  We don’t want to give our elected leaders unbridled power.  That’s why we adopt constitutions and enact statutes limiting their power and restraining their freedom of action.  If the Texas legislature wants to put coercive, oppressive, and abusive political behavior out of bounds, that’s their prerogative and the prerogative of the citizens they represent.  It’s not for Rick Perry to wave off those restraints.  He has to stay within those bounds, or face consequences.  A Republican judge, an impartial special prosecutor, and grand jurors who took an oath to apply the law faithfully and impartially all concluded he didn’t, and the consequence was the indictments.  Prosecuting Perry is the only recourse the people of Texas have.  If you take away their right to a fair trial on these charges, they are left with no rights at all, and the laws under which they live are nothing but scraps of paperRoger Rabbit icon.




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