Renowned Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz is a self-identified liberal Democrat who, under normal circumstances, would not be the first person one would expect to come to the aid of a conservative Republican who finds himself in legal hot water. So when Dershowitz calls the two felony indictments brought against Texas Gov. Rick Perry as “un-American” and part of an “extremely dangerous trend,” his observations aren’t easy to dismiss.
At issue is the governor’s use of his constitutional veto power to deny funding to Austin’s Public Integrity Unit. Perry’s veto defunded the department after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign in the wake of a drunk driving conviction that forced her to spend 45 days in jail. The indictment cites a Texas law that forbids the “misuse” of public funds to “harm another.” Perry announced prior to his veto that his decision to deny the $7.5 million in funding was due to Lehmberg’s unwillingness to step down. The Washington Post, in an editorial lambasting the indictments as “wrong-headed,” noted that “[b]y the weird logic of the indictment, Mr. Perry would have been in the clear if he had simply vetoed the funding without threatening to do so first.”
Like Alan Dershowitz, the Washington Post is not usually in the front of the line to defend conservative politicians. But Perry has no shortage of liberal defenders. Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe took to Twitter to call the indictments “pretty sketchy.” And Clinton and Obama administration strategist Jonathan Prince posted a tweet summarizing the entire case as follows: “Have to say Perry indictment seems nuts.”
That perception doesn’t seem to be limited to just one ideological persuasion, and that’s entirely appropriate. Both Democrats and Republicans ought to be concerned by what Dershowitz identifies as “another example of the criminalization of party differences,” a practice he notes is common under totalitarian regimes but not here in the United States. By dragging a constitutional veto decision into the courtroom solely on the basis of a partisan disagreement, Texas authorities risk undermining the integrity of both the legal system and the political process as a whole.
It’s no secret that Perry is actively contemplating another presidential campaign, and no doubt many of his opponents were gleeful at the possibility that his ambitions would be derailed by these indictments. But bringing the governor down on spurious charges would likely prove to be a Pyrrhic victory that would end up enhancing his standing before the electorate.
But these are raw political considerations, which ought to have no bearing in the courtroom. Politicians who make decisions people don’t like ought to be voted out of office, not put behind bars.