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Brewing for this fight
Historically, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has brewed for every First Amendment fight he can generate. His proclivity for social and political commentary as a judge has always been his platform. Perhaps he does not believe any other platform would be available to him with as much credibility and notoriety. In any event, the current controversy is made to order for him.
Having read his order, it seems to me he has missed the point and misstated the ethical standards he is bound to observe. He thinks Justice Antonin Scalia has paved his way to say whatever he wants and never disqualify unless the case is already filed in his court and he has announced a decision before the case is even tried.
His public letter published on Jan. 28 was his First Amendment right, however unseemly it may be for a judge to utter. However, it is laughable for him to conclude that it was not foreseeable that a lawsuit would be filed in Pulaski County if state takeover occurred. Equally laughable is his conclusion that he did not prejudge the legality (no credible evidence, etc.) or propriety of such a takeover in his Jan. 28 statement.
I don't question his conclusion that both the school district's poor history and the present takeover is tainted with abject racism. The presence or absence of racism is not the issue. The real issue is whether his statements have conveyed the appearance that he cannot be impartial in weighing the evidence and following the law. His Jan. 28 statement must be evaluated as a body of work to determine its impact on appearances. For him to split hairs and say his statement does not expressly commit him to a legal result is sophistry.
Scalia only said that a state cannot prohibit an elected judge from publicly commenting on social and political issues (not just one case)during the course of a political campaign. That decision also indicated that the cure for any appearance of impartiality for those statements is for the judge to disqualify, even if not because of an actual expressed bias. Appearances do matter.
In my opinion Griffen wants this fight. He has waited a long time for a fight like this, and it will accomplish nothing. Any other judge would have immediately disqualified from the case assignment under the present circumstances and not waited for a party to ask for it. And rightfully so. Such is the fallout from a judge commenting on the social and political events of the day.
Fight for public school
I have taught in the public schools for 13 years. I am the son and grandson of public school teachers. My love and affection for a free and fair public education system runs deep. At this moment in time I fear public education is at a dangerous crossroads. The same corruption that has befallen our political system and our economic system is now threatening to infect our schools. I understand why moderates turn from politics and focus on their own lives. Politics is an unseemly business where integrity goes to die and self-interest and greed thrive. I understand how moderates can feel a sense of disenfranchisement from our elected officials. However, moderates, as I write this, there has been a systematic attack on our public education system.
Our country was founded on the idea of advanced citizenship. Advanced citizenship only works when "we the people" can benefit from a robust and strong public education system. Schools are held in public trust and should remain in the public trust. Once the public becomes divested of public education we truly will be a nation of individuals. We will lose the most fundamental of American principles, that out of one comes many.
To protect a core American value, free and public education, we must realize that no right has been won, no victory celebrated without the unified voices of American citizens challenging the status quo. Today, that status quo is represented by state legislators who have been bought and paid for by lobbyists from Washington, D.C. We must reclaim our constitutional authority over our elected officials and hold them accountable to the great American idea of public education. It was American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who reminded us that man is moral, while groups are immoral. The protection against immoral groups is a free and public education. We must demand our elected officials protect our public education from the self-interest and greed of the private sector. Our educational system should not be a financial bottom-line industry. Public education should be held in the public trust, and ensure our children have every opportunity to achieve their American dream.
Public education is sick. However, turning over our children to for-profit industry is not the cure. The cure can be found in our capacity to love. We must remember what is great about America, and what makes us the United States of America. Our communal spirit, the spirit that reaches out to the weary and beaten traveler and welcomes them back into community. That is the spirit that we must embrace. Education is our secret weapon. It can cure society's ills, mend its broken relationships, but only if all members of society engage in the process. Public education is public because we all benefit from it or we can all suffer if we turn it into a for-profit bottom-line industry.
I want to call on all my brothers and sisters who feel disconnected, ignored or disenfranchised by the political system to not sell yourself short, to speak up and defend the great public trust we have been given, the education of our children.
Adam Kirby Little Rock
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