The Nation's Pulse

Unbridled Judicial Arrogance

A gag rule for everyone? Evidently, that's what an incoming state supreme court chief justice has in mind.

By 11.6.07

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"It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate," warned United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas. "There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies."

Similarly, United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo L. Black stated the following regarding the central importance of free expression: "The Press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people."

Unfortunately, that caliber of thinking and degree of commitment to our liberty and constitutional rights is not what we're seeing at the very top level of the Pennsylvania judiciary.

Here's how, for instance, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, set to become Chief Justice of the state's highest court when Ralph Cappy retires at the end of this year, responded to Duquesne University law professor Ken Gormley in declining an invitation to appear at a Duquesne reception and tribute for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito:

At the present time I feel it would be inappropriate to lend the prestige of this Court to this event by my attendance as long as one of your cohorts in the teaching profession at Duquesne Law School continues his unfounded, slanderous, and libelous attacks on the integrity of this Court. His latest attacks appear in the Beaver County Times dated February 22, 2007 in an article where the professor is quoted as stating that the seven Justices of this Court are "even more corrupt than the Legislature" and stating that the judicial compensation opinion was a "judicial swindle."

The "cohort" being accused of illegal speech by Justice Castille is Duquesne University Law School professor Bruce Ledewitz, an outspoken critic of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling that upheld the judicial pay hike section of the illegal pay-jacking scam that was passed in an unconstitutional fashion by the Harrisburg politicians in their 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury in July 2005.

Additionally in his March 2007 letter to Professor Gormley, Justice Castille threatened punishment for Professor Ledewitz:

While these statements may be the personal opinion of your colleague, they are charges that an attorney cannot make against the Supreme Court and its members without subjecting that attorney to possible sanctions by the Disciplinary Board. The charges appear to me to be clear violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and therefore worthy of the Board's attention.

The Disciplinary Board is empowered to suspend law licenses and disbar attorneys. Conveniently, the 16 members of the Disciplinary Board are appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Clearly, Justice Castille is no Hugo Black. "Without deviation, without exception, without any ifs, buts, or whereases, freedom of speech," wrote United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo L. Black, "means that you shall not do something to people either for the views they express, or the words they speak or write."

Sworn to uphold the law, Castille might benefit from re-reading this section of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, unambiguous in declaring the right of the inhabitants of the state to free expression: "That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing, and publishing their sentiments; therefore, the freedom of the press ought not to be retrained."

Castille concluded his letter to Duquesne by suggesting that professor Ledewitz be banished: "It is disgraceful that Duquesne Law School continues to provide the professor a forum to make these charges."

One wonders if Justice Castille finds it also "disgraceful" that Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin has renounced the pay-jacking and given the money back to the state. Or if Castille sees Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Tom Saylor's sole dissenting vote against the pay-jacking as "disgraceful."

No, what's disgraceful here is not Duquesne University, Ledewitz, Melvin or Saylor. The true disgrace is the unconstitutional pay grab, the unchecked greed and corruption of our "public servants," the threats to our freedom, and the arrogance, indecency, and incompetency of those who seek to banish anyone who has the integrity and courage to tell the truth.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.