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Politicization of Supreme Court

July 09, 1985

Thank you for printing such a wide, thoughtful spectrum of opinion on Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and the attempted politicization of the California Supreme Court (Letters, June 26).

I was incredulous at one letter, however, which said, ". . . don't be concerned about my rights. Most of us believe that the odds against being accused of a murder we didn't commit and being tried and executed for it is a gamble we can live with." Oh, really? Well, I may be an overly cautious player, but that seems like a pretty hefty risk to me! (Especially when the stake just happens to be my life.) If that writer wants to relinquish his civil rights, fine, but you can't relinquish mine as well.

Our legal history is rife with overturned convictions, which is why the mere irrevocability of the death penalty, no matter how emotionally satisfying it is to some people, should give pause even to its most ardent supporters.

The willingness exhibited by some to overlook "minor" procedural errors by police in gathering evidence bodes ill for democracy. Just how colossal a blunder must law enforcement make before it is perceived as a genuine threat to the accused's civil liberties?

Where do we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable abuses of authority? After an illegal detention? Unlawful search and seizure? Browbeating a confession from a jailed suspect? How far will it go before we cry "uncle"?

If we heed the suggestion of one letter writer and "weigh other things . . . besides the violation," only suppressing illegally obtained evidence in some cases and not others, then the rights of the accused would vary from case to case and be subject to the whims of individual judges and the winds of chance. Does that add up to equal justice for all?

For a lynch-mob mentality to prevail in removing any judge will not lead to a fair and impartial atmosphere on the court. What death penalty advocates are clearly saying is, "Get rid of Bird and give us a hanging judge." Is a judge predisposed to favoring the death penalty really preferable to one admittedly predisposed against it? Common sense would dictate the contrary.

Finally, why do so many find it irksome that the state Supreme Court often overturns or modifies lower court rulings? That's what Supreme Courts are for! Are the citizenry clamoring for a high court that would function merely as a rubber stamp, providing no avenue for dissent or broadening of rulings? Closing off the higher courts as an effective forum for appeal, peopling it with justices who would do naught but blandly uphold previous rulings, would be a tremendous sacrifice of civil liberties.

JOANNE GUTREIMEN

Los Angeles

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