No CompetenceAlthough I often agree with Garry Wills, I...


March 12, 1994

No Competence

Although I often agree with Garry Wills, I was enraged by his Feb. 28 anti-death penalty column where he discussed a recent opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun.

This rage is not based on disagreement as much as it is on pride.

As an attorney, I take pride in my profession. I am not so elitist as to contend that a layman is unfit to write about matters pertaining to law. However, I am elitist enough to contend that those who do write about law ought to research the law with care.

Mr. Wills does not understand the meaning of the words "due process." It does not mean that every person will obtain the exact same sympathy, treatment and results.

Nonetheless, this is exactly what Mr. Wills believes it to mean. This is evident in his comparing the Menendez brothers to other people who have faced the electric chair.

Due process means that every individual will be given a "hearing" and "opportunity to be heard." To contend that a death penalty defendant is not given due process belies this notion.

Unless the defendant waives appellate rights, the defendant is given countless appeals. Indeed, the execution often takes place some 10 years after the sentence is imposed.

Due process also means fundamental fairness. This is a more abstract concept. In essence, it asks whether there is anything about the case that although not expressly forbidden by the Constitution is still an affront to the basic cannons of decency.

If a death row inmate has an argument as to the violation of this concept, there are more than adequate safeguards to assure the inmate can be heard.

Either Mr. Wills misread Justice Blackmun's opinion or Justice Blackmun is degenerating into becoming another William O. Douglas, a former justice not known for legal scholarship. In any event, Mr. Wills has not demonstrated that he has the competence to write about law.

He may want to talk to Lyle Denniston or James J. Kilpatrick before he tries to do it again.

Dennis G. Olver



When The Sun reported the defeat of the balanced budget amendment (S-41), I called the Washington offices of Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to learn why they had voted against it.

Senator Sarbanes provided no summary of his reasons. His staff can send the statement he delivered on the Senate floor. It is 11 pages long.

Senator Mikulski did explain her vote. Passage of S-41, she wrote, would have led to job losses and tax increases. She supports the president's "deficit reduction package" passed last summer which, she said, will reduce foreign aid, cut 252,000 federal jobs and (wow) eliminate subsidies for honey and wool.

The 1994 budget, while socking us with a retroactive tax hike for the whole previous year, did not reduce the deficit, but only the rate at which it will rise. Eighty percent of the spending cuts won't even happen until 1996.

Our government's debt is $4.4 trillion and climbing. Interest payments alone will take 57 cents of every income tax dollar we send this spring. Another 33 cents will go for wasteful projects. The balanced budget amendment could have wrung out some of that waste.

The United States is going broke, and those most directly responsible are the president and members of Congress, the new ruling class.

But citizens, too, are to blame -- for blinding ourselves to their failures and for turning over more and more of our sovereignty to Big Government whose handouts, when they benefit us or our personal causes, we shamelessly accept.

Mignon A. B. Cameron

Bel Air

House Stood Up

Contrary to the headline on Karen Hosler's article March 5 ("House collapses instead of standing up"), the House did stand up. The House members stood up for the people they were elected to represent.

The language of H.R. 6 (the "education bill" cited in the article) clearly made provision for private and home schools to come under government control for teacher certification in Section 2124(e), 9101(11), 9101(20).

Fortunately, many parents of private- and home-schooled children were alerted to this possibility, and these parents responded to their elected officials that they do not want the government telling them how to educate their children.

If Ms. Hosler believes this to be detrimental, she should review statistics that prove private- and home-schooled students far excel academically their public-schooled peers.

Julia A. Hamilton


Cut Pay, Perks

One final word on Theo Lippman's comments on congressional term limitations (Perspective, Feb. 20): There is absolutely no need to pass term limits for members of Congress.

All we really have to do is figure out a way to trim congressional salaries to $50,000 a year, scale back congressional staffs to two or three aides, cut congressional budgets to $250,000 a year and make congressmen pay the full value for such perks as lunches, haircuts, health clubs and junkets.

Do that and I guarantee there would be a mass exodus out of Washington after one term.

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