While many of us are rightly gratified by the news that Troy Davis has been granted a new trial, I think it is important to consider how long a shot his appeal to the Supreme Court truly was (as the New York Times tells us in an editorial here today, Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer and had resided on Georgia’s death row ever since; many witnesses have since recanted their testimony, according to Amnesty International).
The Times’ editorial also points out the frightening extent to which Antonin “Red Queen” Scalia and Clarence Thomas felt “considerable doubt” that Davis’ claim was “constitutionally cognizable” (and by the way, kudos to Prof. Alan Dershowitz for claiming here that Scalia’s remarks are an “outrage against his church,” which would be the Roman Catholic one, by the way…not sure exactly what it says about those in the hierarchy of my faith that that needs to be pointed out a Jew, and I use that term towards Dershowitz with all due respect).
As the Times tells us, the supposed legal rationale for Scalia and Thomas’ dissent in the Davis case was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which the two claimed “prevent(ed) the courts from intervening on behalf of a death row inmate who claims to have proof of his own innocence” (fortunately, Justice John Paul Stevens explained in a separate opinion that Scalia and Thomas were wrong).
And Elaine Cassel of Counterpunch tells us here that…
The Antiterrorism Act of 1996 was a response to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. (Authors David) Cole and (James X.) Dempsey describe the Act as a massive assault on First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, and petition, and a deeper entrenchment of the “guilt by association” tradition active in the FBI.
As noted above, the Act removed barriers to FBI investigation of activities protected under the First Amendment. It also removed some restrictions on the famous FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court–where federal judges sit in secret to consider, and mostly approve, Justice Department requests for widespread surveillance of “terrorists,” including pen registers and “trap-and-trace” surveillance, methods that can capture income and outgoing telephone calls. The law also opened the door for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport mostly Muslim citizens. The deportations were based on largely secret evidence, and no overt acts needed to be alleged.
And this tells us that the 1996 Act “was introduced as part of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, passed with broad bipartisan support by Congress.”
More fool them, including President Clinton for signing it into law.
Finally, bmaz of firedoglake makes the following points here about the Supreme Court verdict that granted Davis a new trial…
Scalia is right, this particular form of relief is exceedingly rare (that is the only thing he is right about here). What is even more shocking is that it got done in this case, with this court, at this time. While Davis’ family and attorneys maintained their optimism relief would be granted, scant few other folks experienced in these things did including, quite frankly, me. Sonia Sotomayor did not participate, so the majority had to find five votes somewhere, and this is a real head scratcher. The majority opinion was unsigned, but an attached concurring opinion was noted as “Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer join, concurring”. Thomas, predictably, tagged along with Nino on the dissent. That would appear to mean the majority found two more votes for Davis among Kennedy, Alito and Roberts. Now that is shocking.
At the very least, I hope this prods Congress into reviewing the ’96 Act reinstituting the legal protections that were foolishly gutted in the panicked wake of the ‘90s terrorist attacks (all of this occurred before 9/11, of course).
However, since this Congress is primarily the bunch that gutted FISA last year, I’m definitely not holding out much hope.