Holder Meets Sharpton
The attorney general heaps praise on an infamous huckster.

Eric Holder and Al Sharpton in April 2011


Andrew C. McCarthy

There is, moreover, grave reason to believe Holder’s looming involvement will taint the case. In fact, it is already tainting the case.

Put aside the absence of a race angle in this particular case. We know that the Obama-Holder Justice Department practices racial discrimination in enforcing Congress’s race-neutral civil-rights statutes. That is clear from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s investigation of the New Black Panthers voter-intimidation case– brought by the Bush DOJ but dismissed by Holder’s minions, in consultation with far-left activists, even though the government had already prevailed. Anything Holder’s department does under the rubric of civil-rights enforcement exacerbates this profound offense against our constitutional commitment to equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of race.

Furthermore, controversial cases that stir passions and bring out the rabble-rousers demand that high law-enforcement officials provide adult supervision. Not every wrong is a criminal wrong. Responsible prosecutors respect this premise as the Constitution’s safe harbor for the innocent; it is not a mere inconvenience to be maneuvered around. Doing justice means justice for everyone, including the suspect. While it may be news to Mr. Holder, that proposition holds even if the suspect’s name is not Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If negligence, even lethal negligence, has occurred, its victims are not without a remedy — they can sue civilly. The criminal law, however, is not the solution to every legal problem, and its invocation where it has no place is monstrous.

The Justice Department’s conduct in the Martin case has been emblematic of Holder’s tenure: an exercise in hardball politics, not faithful law enforcement. In this case, a responsible attorney general would stay his hand. There appears to be no possibility of a federal crime. If such a possibility arises, the generous statute of limitations on civil-rights violations means there is no rush, and the “dual sovereignty” doctrine assures that there will be no double-jeopardy bar against a federal prosecution once the state’s work is done. The feds should just butt out for now: Let Florida’s system work.

And keep quiet in the meantime. We expect grand juries and petit juries to deliberate over cases in secret. The law requires that, because juries are supposed to decide without fear or favor, based on unvarnished evidence not outside agitators. In stark contrast, Holder has thrown the enormous weight of the Justice Department behind the mob. He is not seeking justice; he is pressing his thumb on the scale.

And it’s working. When Trayvon Martin was first shot to death nearly two months ago, state authorities sensibly opted not to charge George Zimmerman with murder. It wasn’t that they were looking to excuse wrongdoing. It was that the evidence was insufficient to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

Plainly, there was a lack of criminal intent: There was obviously no premeditation; and, alternatively, the facts do not remotely suggest that Zimmerman acted with a “depraved mind regardless of human life”(e.g., the savage indifference of a man who fires into a crowd, heedless of the consequences). To the contrary, the known facts indicate (a) Zimmerman’s concern that Martin was acting suspiciously (the depraved do not call the police, as Zimmerman did, before shooting), and (b) a struggle in which Zimmerman may well have been severely beaten and, in any event, would have a strong basis to persuade a jury that he shot in self-defense.

In advancing that argument, Zimmerman would be aided by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives the law-abiding latitude to use guns for protection. The wisdom vel non of “Stand Your Ground” is beside the point. I happen to agree with National Review’s editors that the anti-gun lobby’s attack on Florida’s statute is unpersuasive. But regardless of who is right, ex post facto principles dictate that criminal cases be resolved based on the law in existence at the time of the conduct at issue. A criminal case may be the reason for subsequently changing laws like “Stand Your Ground,” but the Constitution does not permit a criminal case to be shored up by a midstream change in the law.


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