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Sunday, December 05, 2004

The death of accountability & the accountability of death

One of the more curious forms of accountability in American government is found in the US judiciary. Although often treated in political rhetoric as a single system of justice, the US judicial system is quite the opposite, involving at least 51 distinct court systems (a figure that can only be described as grossly simplistic) engaged in reaching judgments in cases and controversies emerging from a wide range of legal justice systems (e.g., criminal, civil).

Lacking the unitary, codified and highly bureaucratized structure of other judicial systems, the US judiciary engages in an elaborate accountability dance that seems to keep everyone "in sync" most of the time -- or at least that is the impression we casual observers have of the system.

But every so often stories such as the one in today's New York Times undermine our somewhat sanguine outlook. The infamous (and well deserved) reputation of the State of Texas as the "capital punishment" capital of the US seems based, in part, on the obstinate behavior of "its" judges -- not merely those popularly elected justices of the state judiciary, but of the federal appeals court judges on the US Fifth Circuit who have jurisdiction over cases coming from Texas' death row. There is definitely something terribly -- in this instance, deadly -- wrong with the US judiciary's accountability mechanisms.

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