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Under our Constitution, do we not demand that our accused be defended? Is this not a core value of our system of jurisprudence? Is it not at least part of what separates us, what makes us American?
Not if you're Virginia's Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore. He attacks Tim Kaine for doing just that.
Shall we not demand the rigorous defense of any accused whose very life hangs in the balance? Shall we not demand that? Shall we not demand prosecution that overwhelms any defense imaginable when a man's very life hangs in the balance?
Not if you're Jerry Kilgore. He attacks Tim Kaine for defending death row inmates.
What does Kilgore believe in when the state proposes to forever take a man's life? A middling defense? A pretty good effort? The ol' college try? A lick and a promise? A roll-over? What? Does he not believe that our accused should be defended?
If the answer to that one is 'yes,' then why the attack on Kaine? If the answer to that one is 'no,' then which Constitution did he swear to uphold?
It has to be one or the other. Which is it?
Kilgore has made a cold political calculation, but it is one I think will misfire, for two reasons. I don't think Virginians want more people on death row. I think we want less, even those of us who support the death penalty.
Strides in science--particularly DNA science--have established with incontrovertible certainty the fact that innocent people have been convicted here in Virginia. Just as certain is the fact that we will execute an innocent, if we haven't already, if we continue down this road we're on.
I don't think anybody consciously wants that, but if you ask yourself the question, 'Is execution of an innocent more or less probable with Kilgore's proposal to 'enhance' Virginia's death penalty statute?' the answer has to be 'more probable.' The Commonwealth of Virginia is more likely to execute an innocent human being if Kilgore's proposed legislation becomes law.
The second reason is purely political. Virginians admire principle, and principled stands. Even when they disagree with particular views, Virginians admire folks who will tenaciously hold them in acts of conscious.
Such is Tim Kaine's objection to the death penalty. It is an act of conscious. Will it deny him the governorship? Never. Maybe he loses for other reasons, but he will not lose because of an act of conscience. Not in Virginia. In Virginia, we admire principle and principled stands.
Will Kaine uphold Virginia law if he becomes our governor? Of course he will. He has said as much.
The pity is that Kilgore, who is asking for permission to govern us, who faces so many opportunities to make a difference for the good in so many aspects of our lives, has chosen more death, deader death as the wedge issue he hopes will divide us.
He would do well to remember John Adams, our second President, a great American, and a man of principle.
In 1770 Adams defended eight British soldiers who fired on a group of Boston citizens in an incident known to history as 'The Boston Massacre.' Did it cost him personally? You bet it did-short term. You can read up on this one elsewhere, but know that in his old, old age Adams called his defense of the hated British "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and of the best pieces of service I ever rendered to my country."
You see, it was a matter of principle for John Adams.
Tim Kaine is familiar with that concept. Perhaps Kilgore will yet become so.