Friday, January 05, 2007

Price's "Puzzling" Position

David Price would seem to be a figure almost uniquely qualified to assume a leadership role in restoring the rule of law to Durham.

First, as the city’s congressman for all but two of the last 20 years, he has compiled an impressive record on issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans, refusing to tolerate a system in which people are treated differently because of their race, class, or gender.

Second, as an accomplished political scientist (I’ve used his scholarship in my own research), he has a keen understanding of how the American judicial system should—and should not—work.

Third, as a professor of political science and public policy (on leave) at Duke, he presumably has some personal interest in ensuring that Duke students are evaluated by the same procedures as all other citizens of Durham.

Yet for months as Mike Nifong’s abuses piled up, Price remained silent—until December 13. Then, his North Carolina colleague, Walter Jones, demanded that the Justice Department investigate Nifong. Price disagreed, releasing the following statement:

My opinion is it’s an ongoing legal process and it’s highly premature and inappropriate for me to make comments on it or to try to intervene in it.

Since Price issued his statement on December 13, however, numerous developments in the case have occurred:

  • A December 15 court session featured testimony that Nifong and the director of a private DNA lab, Dr. Brian Meehan, entered into an agreement to intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence.
  • UNC law professor Joseph Kennedy published an op-ed explaining how Nifong had a conflict of interest in prosecuting the case.
  • More than nine months after the alleged incident (but a mere six days after revelation of the DNA conspiracy), a representative of Nifong’s office interviewed the accuser, who, in a new version of events, no longer could remember whether she was raped. Rather than dismiss all charges, Nifong dismissed the rape charge but kept in place allegations of sexual assault and kidnapping.
  • The state bar filed ethics charges against Nifong, stating that he had engaged in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
  • In an unprecedented action, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys issued a public letter demanding that Nifong recuse himself from the case, stating that such an action was necessary “in light of all the developments of the Duke Lacrosse case, including the [ethics] filing on December 28, 2006.” [emphases added]
  • Evidence came to light that Nifong has used different procedures (witness ID is not enough to go to trial) and standards of evidence (DNA evidence is exculpatory) when prosecuting rape cases in which the suspects were non-white, non-Duke students.
  • Nifong misled reporters about his ordering the media and the public to be barred from his swearing-in ceremony. He then gave a bizarre press conference in which he asserted that his remarks on the case (which the bar has characterized as based on “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”) played a salutary role in exposing “divisions” within Durham, necessitating his presence in office as part of the “healing process.”

I asked Price press secretary Paul Cox whether, in light of all these developments, the congressman had reconsidered his position on the merits of a federal inquiry into Nifong’s conduct.

The answer: No. “The congressman’s statement stands.”

I also asked Cox what level of prosecutorial misconduct would be necessary for Congressman Price to support a Justice Department inquiry into Nifong’s behavior. Cox didn’t say.

It’s hard to imagine what more Price would need than what has emerged in the last three weeks. After all, the record is now clear that Nifong has:

  • entered into an agreement with a lab director to intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence, all while he repeatedly denied to the court that he had failed to turn over all exculpatory evidence;
  • ordered police to violate their own procedures to create a “no-wrong-answers” lineup;
  • violated the bar’s rules against prejudicial public comments, while making public statements about the case that the bar considered based on “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

It would seem, therefore, as if Congressman Price’s position is as follows: in an “ongoing legal process” in his district, the Justice Department has no role in investigating prosecutorial misconduct.

Price’s position, at first blush, might seem inconsistent for a congressman whose campaign website boasts of his commitment to improving ethics and who eloquently addressed the House last session championing civil rights for all.

And no doubt a figure of Price’s high ethical standards would never base his position on a need to pander to the votes of African-Americans in his district, or fringe voters like the Group of 88.

So what does motivate Price? Perhaps he can claim that he has adopted a position consistent with the teachings of longtime North Carolina senator Sam Ervin. Best-known nationally because of his folksy, effective performance chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, Ervin also was a strict constructionist on the issue of civil rights. Throughout the 1950s, he passionately opposed civil rights legislation, and especially pushed a “jury trial amendment”—the idea that all civil rights cases should be decided by Southern juries, rather than through contempt proceedings before a federal judge.

Ervin deemed it a “tragic error to attempt the protection of civil rights for any one group through a process which denies a liberty equally precious—that of trial by jury.” In short, suggested the senator, race-based Southern prosecutors and race-based Southern juries should be able to do what they wanted in their “ongoing legal processes,” free from the meddling intervention of a federal government interested in ensuring fair treatment for all.

Ervin is a towering figure in the North Carolina Democracy, and I can see where Price would find political and ideological comfort in adopting a position on the lacrosse case that traces its ideological roots to a belief of Ervin’s—even if most people now consider Ervin’s approach to civil rights matters wholly wrong.

Or, perhaps, Price hasn’t gone through such ideological contortions, and instead he has simply decided that he will place his political self-interest above his obligation to protect civil rights for all.

Modified, 12.30am


Anonymous said...

Alcee Hastings as a former judge and William "freezer" Jefferson as a lawyer are also great candidates for the job. Both are well-known civil rights activists, legal experts and highly ethical members of the democratic party.

Anonymous said...

He needs to run for re-election, HE will hide under his desk.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a lot simpler than you assume. Black voters form a huge part of Price's constituency. He's a Democrat for gosh sakes! He cannot afford to alienate black voters. Judging from what we have seen so far, many in the black community still support Nifong and would be insulted by Price's call for federal intervention.

Anonymous said...

Occam's razor, K.C. The man has to pander to black voters if he wants to keep his job.

Anonymous said...

"the most ethical congress in history"

bill anderson said...

No doubt, Price is one of those politicians who demand principled behavior from others -- but not himself. Of course, the way that politicians and newspapers are calling for Nifong's beheading, Price may find himself at the back of a long line.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, Price represents only certain segments of his district's populace. What an honorable man!!!

Anonymous said...


I would change your first statement a little. Black voters and Duke leftists, like the Gang of 88, form a huge part of Price's constituency.

KC Johnson said...

My Ervin material was presented in a sarcastic vein--I'll modify to make post clearer!

Anonymous said...

Price. Easley. Cooper.

Anonymous said...

Does the Democratic Party in North Carolina not care about its image?

Jeff said...

Look, he's a politician. If he want to get relected in two years then he can't alienate himself from the majority of his voters. If I were in his position I would probably end up making similar statements.

This does not mean he's necessarily happy about whats happening, and that he is not doing anything about it. He could very well be doing things behind the scenes. Of course this is just speculation and I have absolutely nothing to back it up. But its political suicide for him to come out publicly against Nifong, so this is what I see as his only option.

Anonymous said...


I read it too fast. With a more careful reading, I see the sarcasm. Sorry.

GPrestonain said...


"...and instead he has simply decided that he will place his political self-interest above his obligation to protect civil rights for all.

AKA, 'to pull a nifong'. ;>)

huesofblue said...

Price's position isn't that puzzling. The case will probably get thrown out in February. The State Bar has already brought one ethics action against Nifong and will likely bring more in the next six months. In short, all signs suggest that the Durham legal systems is finally working and about to take Nifong to task.

Price can make a legitimate argument that this is a state and municiple matter that the state and municipality are handling. As the elected representative of Durham, he can argue that his position is a vote of confidence in the Durham legal system. And in month or so, he'll probably look justified.

Of course, the real reason is that Price doesn't want to alienate the substantial portion of the democratic voting block that voted for Nifong. But unless this case is still around after the February hearing, I won't lose too much sleep over his position.

Anonymous said...

Price. Easley. Cooper.

"Ships are safe in the harbor, but thats not what ships are for"

We have elected these men to lead, and sometimes that is hard, but we have an expectation of effective leadership when it counts - like now.

Anonymous said...

Price. Easley. Cooper. Dole.

Anonymous said...

Bill A - Any news on what is happening to Dr Meehan and the lab?

Simon said...

I have to say I disagree here.

This whole idea that any specific person needs to "speak out" about each and every injustice (real or perceived), whether they have any actual insight into the matter (or not--usually not) is part of what got us here in the first place.

A large segment of our society is hyper-politicized, self-righteous, and inclined to very nearly self-eroticize their "voices" raised in protest.

If people WANT to speak out, let em. That is, if they have something of merit to say, and some basis on which to say it, unlike the moronic Gang of 88 or this obviously pandering coward Price.

hueofblue said...


I have a certain amount of sympathy for Price. He represents the folks in Durham that elected him. And if he thinks that a majority of the voters who put him in office would object to his calling for a Federal Intervention, then maybe he wasn't elected on this issue. Maybe he was elected to do the wrong thing and keep his mouth shut and say no comment.

Cedarford said...

Another Anonymous said: Does the Democratic Party in North Carolina not care about its image?

While the main players in Durham are Democratic and I expect the Gang of 88 votes 100% Democratic when a Communist, Greenie, or Socalist alternative is not on the ballot, it would be wrong to blame just the Democrats.

For some strange reason, the "Heirs of Ervin" still don't want "them there Feds" coming in and calling the shots, telling them what to do.

That includes Republicans. Why Easley, Dole, and Burr will remain Profiles in Non-Courage along with Price.

Black activists and white lefties have their reason for not wanting the Feds in.
Conservative white NC leaders have their own traditional beliefs that the State has rights and should deal with it's own problems rather than turn them over to Yankee lawyers from Massachusetts or West Coast investigators or Texas inspectors on the "Fed's Team".

CF said...

There is something unsettling to me about the thought that a state in our Republic is unable and unwilling to deal with this outrage on its own and must seek federal help to correct this wrong.
I accept that if this continues on to trial, it may be time for the AG to step in--to the everlasting shame of N. Car. It's like declaring yourself in receivership.

I can understand a principled man with some sense of the law and a respect for federalism, wanting the local bar and courts to deal with this.

And I hope they do. It would be responsible and one step toward redemption.

Anonymous said...

This is one of those cases where the cost of silence is too expensive for our senior leaders to not weigh in. In fact, I expect my paid elected officials to weigh in heavily on an issue that is hurtful to this really cool region as this issue has become. In the process, they would help exonerate three individuals that would never have been indicted if Nifong did his job.

While I do not expect them to take on every injustice - I certainly expect more out of them on this issue than I have seen to date. Including both Burr and Dole in addition to the Democrats already skewered.

This is not a Republican or Democrat thing - this is an out of control DA who is riding an issue much larger than he is.

james conrad said...

david price is in a bad spot here, his 4th district includes all of durham and orange counties which voted kerry by large margins in 2004 (duke 68% orange 67% ). mary katharine ham, a durham native, has some interesting observations about this very blue part of a red state. it was links by either ham @ townhall or malkin @ drudge which caused me to stumble into this blog.i've been addicted ever since, damn em both! lol

Anonymous said...

cf and hueofblue have very valid points in my opinion and quite frankly this site and especially the comments have taken a disappointing shift from shedding light and insight into a disturbing case of civil rights and other abuses to simply finding excuses to bad-mouth democrats and liberals. I have been a dedicated reader of this site for quite a while now but these more recent developments are making it difficult for me to enjoy the original journalistic intent of the blog and the real cause that it supports. In this case, as a liberal aligned with many people whom I wouldn't normally find myself aligned, it's hard to find enjoyment of the mostly good work done here when the environment becomes filled with nonsensical and irrelevent insults that partake in the same sort of generalizations that have served to infuse hatred in this particular case. We spend too much time insulting the other "side" in discussions that turn political rather than finding common ground (something that should truly not be difficult in this case) and identifying what has caused us to view our political realm as two opposing sides when it should be about challenging ideas while compromising and cooperating. While it's easy to rip on liberals in this case, next time around it's just as likely that we'll have a similarly easy time ripping on conservatives. There is, I believe, a greater middle ground politically than the main stream media would have us believe and there's no sense in alienating the "other side" when trying to affect change is substantially easier with some kind of a majority mandate that includes some of those other people that are intelligent enough to see the truth in a situation. I am one of those people- a self-identified liberal who is disgusted with some of his usual "allies" and aware that "pc-ness" has been taken too far in our colleges. But don't lump all of us in with those who lack either intelligence or a conscience and give valid ideals a bad name. Fighting the good fight is easier when you're not drawing lines in the sand.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:19 AM:

Your concerns are well-taken; we are not here to discuss politics, but to discuss the case.

On the other hand, how do you propose we understand the passivity with which the power structure in Durham is viewing the ongoing harm done to Reade, Collin and David?

Is there any way to understand their acquiescence in this public horror other than by understanding the political calculations we presume them to be making?

james conrad said...

re: 3:19 gee wiz, politics is how we got here and the core of this case. the fact is a DA in durham nc corrupted the judicial process for votes in an election

Anonymous said...

I would say that one can undertstand that within a given political "side" there might in fact be those deserving of investigation and also those willing to help in such an investigation. So, there's no need to alienate those new allies from "the other side."
I'm liberal but I still want to investigate the power structure has led to and continues to run this sad circus.

Austin said...

Several posts have already explained the tongue-in-cheek “puzzle” of Representative Price’s silence. He is operating according to the economic principle sometimes called “the parsimony of risk”. What he says is after all technically true. This is a court case involving charges brought by a duly elected (if invisibly installed) district attorney. An even more invisible though properly constituted grand jury determined that the charges had sufficient merit for indictment. The matter is now “before the court”. A very small number of his constituents are appalled by the obvious legal fiasco. A somewhat larger number of his constituents are shouting “Hang them!” And the large majority of his constituents are too busy with the nine to five or watching bowl games to have an opinion on the matter. Whatever he might say would offend somebody without pleasing enough others to compensate for the risk. The situation is one that is ideal for a politician. Inaction can be presented as submission to high principle. But let me predict that once the weather changes just a little more definitively Mr. Price will show up to be photographed with the Friends of Liberty.

The practice of leadership from the rear is less attractive still as practiced by Duke President Richard Brodhead. Mr. Price can at least plausibly say that this is not really his bailiwick. But it has been clear all along that Dick Brodhead has a dog in this fight, indeed an entire yapping kennel. We have needed more from him than a timid and formulaic assertion of the “assumption of innocence” accompanied by the unchallenged institutional body language asserting an assumption of guilt by virtue of “race, class, and gender”.

Anonymous said...

I think KC is being very naive. Politicians do what they have to, to protect their base and get elected.

Anonymous said...

"And no doubt a figure of Price’s high ethical standards would never base his position on a need to pander to the votes of African-Americans in his district, or fringe voters like the Group of 88."

There's "no doubt" that this time your assumption is wrong, KC.

Price boasts a 100% NAACP rating.

Until the NC NAACP moves on Nifong and Crystal (if ever), Congressman Price will continue to "puzzle."

The Dem Durham County Chairman is Floyd McKissick Jr., who achieved the position AFTER he was sanctioned by the North Carolina State Bar 9for misconduct that other state bars would have treated much more severely).


Michael J. Gaynor

PS Congressman William "Cold Cash" Jefferson was re-elected in New Orleans. The miracle is that former Congresswoman Cynthia "I whack a white cop who doesn't recognmize me" McKinney was beaten in a Democrat primary in her Georgia Congressional district.

AMac said...

anon 3:19am --

Great comment. You point out that folks from all over the political spectrum have "a dog in this fight," and ought to be concerned about unethical and illegal behavior by those we have entrusted to high positions.

Many of the follow-on comments to yours address why holding officials' feet to the fire for what they say--or don't say--is exactly what is called for. Yeah, many of those people are liberal Democrats... but enough of them are not.

Put best by a comment that preceded yours (@ 1:43am):

"'Ships are safe in the harbor, but thats not what ships are for'

We have elected these men to lead, and sometimes that is hard, but we have an expectation of effective leadership when it counts - like now."

Anonymous said...

Price needs the black vote in Durham, too.

Anonymous said...

Price, Easley, Cooper, Dole & Edwards ...

What would we be hearing from these leaders if evidence surfaced that the voting machines in their districts were "nifonged".

I can only think that the facts and actions of the DA in concert with the city, police and lab are just too unbelieveable to be real for them to respond. Maybe they just think it will go away without having to go on record.

Well their silence is part of the record, especially in light of the national editorials.

They are privledged to be public leaders. They can demonstrate their leadership with reminding both their constituents and fellow public office holders the value of following the law.

Anonymous said...

just a hack.

Anonymous said...

Price, Easley, Cooper, & Edwards ...The Invisible men and Ms Dole the Invisible Woman?

Supportive Politicians like these ...really stink don't they?

Anonymous said...

Mrs Dole sent out a form letter which was dated 12/8/06 to every person who complained to her about this travisty to her.

Not her job to get involved?

What does she and the others get involved in ????

Anonymous said...

KC, I think it's pretty clear that your last graph is an accurate summary of Price's position. sic semper tyrannis

GPrestonian said...

Cathy Davidson, (re)visionary and apologist for the Group of 88 speaks out & takes on 'blog hooligans':

1/5/07 - N&O: In the aftermath of a social disaster

KC's next subject?

Here's her contact info in case you want to make your blog hooligan bones:

Cathy Davidson, Ph.D.
Vice Provost (faculty)
Interdisciplinary Studies
John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute
+1 919 684 8472 (tel)
+1 919 668 1919 (fax)

Anonymous said...

Wow -- care to cast that net a little wider, KC? How long before you give the 1,200-word post castigating George Bush for not driving down to Durham and kicking this guy out himself.

Frankly -- and I know this will offend a lot of the political wingnuts who have gravitated to your site -- there's more cause to be angry with AG Gonzalez. He has the capacity to act and has been asked to do so. What's the hold-up?

Or maybe you'd rather go after Pelosi. She's been in charge for almost 24 hours and has done absolutely nothing on the Duke lacrosse case! Shame!!! Shame!!!

Anonymous said...

A little off topic, but one of the group of 88 wrote a thoughful defense of the "listening" ad today:

My take on the "listening" ad is that the intention is likely just what is described by the professor in today's N&O. Hoever, it is easily interpreted as supporting a rush to judgement -- The assertions that "something happened" is hard for them to defend, and the quote was avoided...

Anonymous said...

By logical extension, you would have damn near everyone in government immediately weigh in?

The ball is rolling on this -- you did a lot to make it happen. Not everone with tangential connection to Durham and Duke need take a lead role at this point in the process.

As one poster put it, the truth started as pebble and has becombe a landslde.

I admire most of your work, KC, but this one is a reach...

Anonymous said...


I guess you were one of the people that blamed Bush for Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

Where was the criticism of the population of New Orleans who didnt leave(and dont say they couldnt get transportation as they always find a ride if where they need to go involves a club, alcohol, or to aplly for welfare benefits) or the local leadership who didnt tell people to leave and use local resources to help evacuate people. The local folks in this case need to stand up as well. Dont look to AG Gonzalez to fix this problem. Elected leaders in NC could do a lot more to resolve the Nifong problems then some AG in DC. But when the local leadership is all Dems and a carpetbagger like Dole, lets blame the Federal Gvt. Typical liberal crap.

It really takes issues like the Duke Lacrosse case to see how horrible liberals are and it gives me great hope that there are so many intelligent posts on this site from people who get it.

You arent one of them.

Anonymous said...

great post titled impeach nifong:

Anonymous said...




Anonymous said...

As liberal, you can answer this question VERY easily, say. I am a DEMOCRAT. I will say nothing against my fellow DEMOCRAT, I need the Black vote to stay in office, therefore I MUST WH*RE myself.

That clear enough??

Anonymous said...

To all the price supporters:
When politicians are sworn in, don't they swear to uphold the constitution of the US. Regardless of Price's politcal party, did he not swear to uphold the constitution? Thank God our forefathers did not remaind silent sit on their well-fed behinds when this country was being formed. price has a duty here. He has failed to perfrom.

Anonymous said...

Price is a DEMOCRAT. If Nifong was a Republican he would have been first in line for a federal intervention. Crooked politics plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

This also goes for Rep. Jones, a former Democrat in a safe GOP seat. He has no liability for speaking out, Price would face a primary challenge if he spoke out. As I've posted before, the 900 LB gorilla is the Black vote, which is almost 30% of state total, without it NO DEMOCRAT in the state could get elected. This explains why the Governor, the legislature, the judiciary are all quiet, they are all DEMOCRATS.

Anonymous said...

No surprise Ms. Price was handling the checkbook at the grocery as that's why Price sat on the sidelines for 2 years(bouncing checks on the House bank). In recognizing the political jockeying going on, it's more diapointing that Dole has remained silent on the matter.

Anonymous said...


culture of corruption

Congressional Black Caucus Gives Jefferson Standing Ovation
Ethics are very important...

From CNN: (emphasis added)

On the same day that the 110th Democratic-led Congress convenes with a plan to immediately pass lobbyist and ethics reforms, the Congressional Black Caucus Thursday gave a standing ovation to Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who faces an FBI probe into bribery allegations.

"The haters... and negative nabobs...the people who spoke against him couldn't prevail against the people who spoke for him," Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, master of ceremonies for the CBC's celebratory event, said Thursday morning.

The FBI is currently conducting an investigation that alleges Jefferson accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman -- $90,000 of which was later recovered in the congressman's freezer.

Anonymous said...

Hey does anyone know if there is a White Congressional Caucus? That would be OK wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Duke should start White Studies department.

Special guest lecturer: David Duke

Vivian Thomas said...

The real horror of this person's silence is the possibility that, even with all that has been uncovered about the accuser, the investigation and the prosecution, this man can still be legitimately concerned that coming out against a renegade prosecutor and a lying prostitute will cost him with his electorate. How can these people be so hopelessly blind to reality. Is the hunger for victimhood that strong? Is the entitlement culture that entrenched? Is the world really that sad a place? Apparently, in Durham, it is.

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance that these young men will go to trial for the remaining charges? What a horrifying thought that this could occur! All charges should have been dropped in December, more accurately this whole charade should never have proceeded beyond the DNA testing which exonerated these kids last spring.