The Beginning of the End of the Promise of America

The Cold Heaven by William Butler Yeats
Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting Heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Radical attorney Lynne F. Stewart was convicted by a jury in lower in Manhattan today on a number of charges made up by the United States government to show its might to those unwary enough to believe that they could be outspoken in the defense of the unpopular. Too outspoken, evidently.
I hold no brief for Ms. Stewart, who I consider to be an unapologetic idiot. However, being an unapologetic idiot (and my understanding of her record as a defense attorney is as a not particularly effective defense attorney… I have heard her described as “a civil rights lawyer”, but I think she was more of an attorney for unpopular criminal defendants)… is not a crime. Let alone one that carries a 20-year sentence.
What Ms. Stewart is accused of doing is incredibly stupid. Should she have challenged the intrinsically unconstitutional restrictions on her ability to convey messages from a convicted conspirator in the first World Trade Center bombing, even hateful ones? Yes, she should have been more careful. Should she have challenged the arbitrary prison rules she violated? Yes again.
But prior to the post-9-11 hysteria (in which we still hold citizens without counsel, charge or trial, and the habeas corpus writ has been treated as toilet paper by our own Supreme Court, and we maintain gulags throughout the world), Stewart would have been charged with administrative violations, fined, and quite possibly, suspended from legal practice for some time.
And now? Twenty years in jail. Would I rather take the chance that loudmouth lawyers might convey messages from bad people to the outside world, or that I wouldn’t be able to get competent legal counsel if I were accused of a peculiarly heinous crime, I would take the former chance. Every. God. Damned. Day.
And, I suspect unlike anyone who may snarkly comment about being soft on terrorists, or for that matter, the jury, I was one block from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th; I’m quite familiar with the events of that day. And I still work a block from Ground Zero. And I would rather risk a repeat of that day, again, and again, than risk the protections of the Bill of Rights and the rest of our constitution.
We can live proudly as free men, in the best country that has ever existed, and not allow our precious rights to be compromised. Or we can cower in fear and raw emotion, and watch as our rights are eroded. Let’s be clear: the Lynne Stewart prosecution is a stark message to attorneys. Representing the unpopular will not merely result in scorn and disrespect and maybe occasional court sanctions. Now, it can result in jail. And in the case of Stewart, who is in her 60’s, a probable life sentence at that.
This. Is. Not. What. We. Are. About. This is a sorry day for those who would defend our most important liberties. Which makes it a sorry day for the rest of us.