The first came from Jeff Taylor, who had penned a similarly incisive piece on the case in June. Taylor correctly point out that Nifong’s has forced “fans of limited government confront an ugly truth. Despite the sensible urge not to federalize every issue, sometimes only another layer of government can fix bad government.”
The Meehan testimony, with its suggestion of a conspiracy between Nifong and the doctor to exclude exculpatory evidence for the defense, provided both a cultural (the Nancy Grace SNL skit) and an intellectual watershed (Susan Estrich’s searing denunciation of Nifong)—but it also brought to national attention the question of who can stop the Durham D.A.
As Taylor notes, North Carolina governor Mike Easley ands AG Roy Cooper have steered wholly clear from the case, constrained by their offices’ limited power (but also politically timid to confront Nifong); the state legislature has shown little concern, given that the defendants aren’t constituents of any North Carolina politician. Until the arrival of Osmond Smith, the judiciary had enabled Nifong. The state bar? “Loathe to get involved absent some sort of cover provided by the African-American lawyers.”
Taylor, correctly, identifies one other possible brake on Nifong: the university the targeted students once attended. But, he laments, “Duke has been thoroughly pro-Nifong, with the conspicuous exception of Duke Law professor James Coleman and the heroic attempts by some university supporters to nudge the institution away from the cliff”; he dismisses the Monday statement of President Richard Brodhead as continuing to “promote the tortured notion that the accuser deserves to air her claims in a court of law.”
Who, then, can act to restore the Constitution to “North Carolina, America’s very own banana republic”? Alberto Gonzales. When the AG “becomes the key to protecting basic civil liberties in what should be a routine criminal prosecution by local officials,” Taylor concludes, the “truth does not get much uglier than that.”
Meanwhile, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christine Flowers perceptively revives a comparison made several months ago by the Times’ Nicholas Kristof, and deems the case a modern-day version of the Scottsboro Boys.
She, to, recognizes that in the post-SNL/Estrich environment, Nifong’s image is irredeemable: he is now “every lawyer’s worst nightmare—a caricature wrapped in a stereotype of the proverbial shyster.”
Unfortunately, she notes, Nifong’s actions have tarnished the profession, since most people, when thinking of lawyers, focus not on the accomplishments of towering figures (think James Coleman in this case), but “on the mediocrities like the Durham County D.A., who sacrificed whatever integrity he might have had to win an election. He is, if anything, more prostitute than prosecutor.”
The Meehan revelations, Flowers argues, show that Nifong “is not only immoral and opportunistic. He must be disbarred.” Race and class, she realizes, have played a role in this case (how else to explain the NAACP acting as cheerleaders of an unethical prosecutor?)—but it was “Nifong who struck the match.”
The real problem isn’t the color or net worth of the protagonists. It’s the fact that an officer of the court duty-bound to see that justice is done made political hay out of personal tragedies and trampled on the civil rights of three young men.
Let’s hope he gets his own dose of justice. The poetic kind.
Gonzales will act only with continued public pressure. The columns by Taylor and Flowers therefore help the cause.