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Erosion of rights should not surprise

Chris Powell

Publication: The Day

Published May 19. 2013 4:00AM

It's hard not to laugh at the indignation over the Justice Department's seizure of telephone records of the Associated Press and its journalists. Sure, the seizure was sweeping rather than surgical, but the government says it is looking for a leak of classified information involving its pursuit of terrorism, and for years now the government has been legislating itself actually totalitarian powers in the name of fighting terror.

The indefinite imprisonment of supposed fighters from foreign battlefields without trial at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lately called to public attention by a hunger strike there, is only a small part of it.

So is the political persecution of the tea party movement by the Internal Revenue Service.

Though the federal courts are operating normally throughout the country, Congress and President Obama have actually suspended the right of habeas corpus, the right to be brought before a court to challenge one's imprisonment, upon the government's mere accusation of terrorism. That is, the United States itself now can be turned into Guantanamo at any time. Any citizen now can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial upon a mere accusation of terrorism.

Defending the president against the IRS scandal, his former campaign manager, David Axelrod, says, "There's so much beneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast."

Indeed - but who made it so vast and who let it get that way?

Political heroes past

Connecticut lost a couple of political heroes the other day with the deaths of two retired lawyers - a Democrat and a Republican.

The Democrat, Sanford "Sandy" Plepler, was a leader in Sen. Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam War campaign for president in 1968, when opposing a war that wasn't worth winning and wasn't being waged to be won got you called a Communist.

While most liberal Democrats went along with the war because it was the policy of a supposedly liberal president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and they didn't want to risk their political standing, a few, like Plepler, stood up for their principles and for democracy. This was terribly difficult in Connecticut because back then the state's process for choosing national convention delegates was completely undemocratic, controlled by party leaders, and state law did not provide for a presidential primary election.

In the end Connecticut's anti-war Democrats were given a small number of the state's delegates to the national convention in Chicago. Plepler was one of those anti-war delegates. History vindicated them, since as soon as the national administration changed from Democratic to Republican, the craven remainder of the Democratic Party, no longer in thrall to a Democratic president's patronage, began turning against the war.

The Republican hero, John F. Shea Jr., a former Republican town chairman in Manchester and state representative, spent a decade defending an Andover man, Roy F. Darwin, who in 1963 raped and murdered a teenage girl in Vernon, Hope Fern Rothwell of Bolton. It was a sensational case that challenged Connecticut's criminal-justice system. After getting Darwin's first conviction reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court and his second conviction reversed by the state Supreme Court, Shea won dismissal of the charges, having exposed stupid and even gangster tactics by police and prosecutors that contaminated and contrived evidence.

Upholding the rights of criminal defendants was not commonly the path of ascent in the Republican Party, but upon conclusion of the Darwin case Shea's fearless and entirely proper lawyering and his general integrity won him an appointment to the Superior Court from a Republican governor.

After seven years as a judge, Shea resigned to become vice president of Aetna Life and Casualty before retiring.

Plepler and Shea represented the best of old Connecticut.

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