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Monday, February 12, 2018

Will America ever be able to recover from Trump's court packing?
by digby

That will be a huge part of his legacy. And it's really, really bad. Amanda Marcotte wrote about one of these judges for Salon today:

On Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with the support of four Democrats, recommended a Senate vote for Kurt Engelhardt, a district court judge in Louisiana who has been nominated by Donald Trump to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That means Engelhardt will likely be up for confirmation very soon, despite his history of disturbing rulings on cases involving racial violence and injustice, as well as cases involving sexual harassment and workplace discrimination against women.

Engelhardt got national attention in 2013 for his ruling in one of the most scandalous cases of racial injustice and police brutality in the 21st century: The Danziger Bridge shootings following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which New Orleans police officers shot six unarmed black people, killing two and shooting the arm off one woman. The victims were evacuees from the hurricane, and one was chased down and shot in the back by police as he fled for his life. To conceal their guilt, the officers involved tried to frame the victims as the assailants.

“The Danziger Bridge case is something straight out of a movie," Kristine Lucius, an executive vice president at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told Salon. "People were killed and the police officers involved tried to cover it up. No one disputes those two facts.”

Prosecutors initially throw the book at the police involved, getting sentences ranging from 38 to 65 years for the four officers involved in the shooting and six years for another involved in the coverup. But the presiding judge, Engelhardt, made it known from the get-go that he was displeased with efforts to hold these police fully accountable for the murders, claiming there was as "air of mendacity" around the prosecution and complaining that the plea deals prosecutors got from cooperating witnesses prevented him from issuing lighter sentences to the murderers.

Soon enough, Engelhardt was able to get rid of those heavy sentences when it was discovered that three of the federal prosecutors had left anonymous comments on a local website regarding the case. Claiming that the comments created a "prejudicial, poisonous atmosphere" for the jury — even though there was no evidence that any jurors had read the comments — Engelhardt threw out the convictions. The police were retried, this time only getting 7 to 12 years for murder, and three years for the coverup.

“It was a really remarkable, almost unheard-of remedy," said Dan Goldberg, the legal director for Alliance for Justice. "Danziger Bridge is further illuminating when you compare it with another decision of his, a decision called Truvia v. Julien, where he denied the civil rights claims of two African-American plaintiffs who were held in prison for 27 years before they found out that their constitutional rights were violated because exculpatory evidence had been withheld at their trial."

In this latter case, Engelhardt dismissed the claim that the defendants had been victims of prosecutorial misconduct, even though what the prosecutor's office did — withholding exculpatory evidence — was far more serious than posting anonymous comments on a news site. Worse, this was part of an ongoing pattern of unconstitutional civil rights violations from the New Orleans district attorney.

There's more.

I wrote a lot about the Danziger Bridge incident in the weeks and years after Katrina. It's a shocking story of racist violence, government corruption and cover up. Stunning, really. It perfectly encapsulated the right wing authoritarian reaction to Katrina --- a very scary harbinger of what could easily happen in other large scale national emergencies like that.

It's mind-boggling that they would promote this judge, of all judges.

But it is Trump's country now. If he can be president, anything is possible.