A June 2007 Supreme Court case called Bowles v. Russell, had to do with a Mr. Bowles who missed his opportunity to file a Habeas appeal in a murder case. (Mr. Bowles was the alleged murderer.) It seems the court in question told him that the deadline was on the 26th of the month; he got his filing in a day early, on the 25th. However, the court had told him wrong. The actual deadline was two days earlier on the 24th. Ooops.
The upshot? Bye-bye appeal.
In a 5-4 decision the Supremes agreed with the lower court that while Bowles may have gotten a sucky deal, that was just the breaks. Deadlines were deadlines.
Mr. Bowles, it should be noted, was a convicted murderer and nobody’s idea of a sympathetic character.
Yet now the decision that bears his name is reaping unexpected and awful consequences-–not so much for convicted felons, but for injured military veterans.
Adam Liptak has the story in Tuesday’s NY Times.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court said there are some filing deadlines so rigid that no excuse for missing them counts, even if the tardiness was caused by erroneous instructions from a federal judge.
The vote was 5 to 4, and Justice David H. Souter wrote a furious dissent. “It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way,” he said, adding that he feared the decision would have pernicious consequences.
He had no idea.
The court’s decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death. But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is “a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them.”
The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.
Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.
His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is “incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.” As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”
The courts acknowledge this. On the other hand, they say, deadlines are deadlines.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Washington, ruled against Mr. Henderson in December, saying the Supreme Court’s decision from three years ago, Bowles v. Russell, left it no choice.
In a dissent, Judge Haldane R. Mayer, writing for himself and two colleagues, called the majority’s approach “both ironic and inhumane.”
Since the summer of 2008, writes Liptak, there have been more than 225 similar dismissals.
Read the whole thing. It’s very eloquent and very sad.
The latest essay by Specialized Journalism grad student, Tom Pfingsten, talks about the lousy way the media covered the health care reform abortion controversy. It is particularly worth your time.
Here’s how it opens:
Politicized or not, most Christians have deeply religious reasons for opposing abortion, and that’s why it’s a shame that the U.S. media’s coverage of the issue at the most crucial moment of the recent congressional health-care debate was reduced to two lone words: “Baby Killer!”
They were shouted by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and they instantly displaced any thoughtful coverage that might have helped nonreligious Americans understand why abortion was such a sticking point for conservative legislators.
Neugebauer claimed he was referring to the health care bill, not Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who had opposed the bill because of its funding for abortions, but changed his mind and was speaking when “Baby Killer!” was heard throughout the room. Either way, Neugebauer’s outburst immediately became the most newsworthy thing to come from the health care debate that day, judging by the flood of coverage devoted solely to Neugebauer’s poorly timed exclamation.
Within hours, news sites and TV stations were knee deep in a whodunit-style investigation to uncover whose voice had sent the words flying across the floor of the legislature. Never mind why they were shouted. USA Today headlined its story with the revelation that Neugebauer was behind the unfolding scandal. The Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle both dissected the political consequences. And Diana Butler Bass, writing for the Huffington Post, focused on the morality of using the words “Baby Killer” as a personal insult. (Bass did, however, include an insightful paragraph about mainstream Christian beliefs regarding “any sort of intentional violence against human beings”â€”including abortion.)
Even before Neugebauer’s infamous flare-up on March 21, news outlets were doing a poor job of explaining why abortion was being viewed as a deal-breaker. On the previous day, the Washington Post astutely declared that the health-care vote “may hinge on abortion issues,” but did not explain why.
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