A Starr Performance

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 06, 2005
| Del.icio.us

Ken Starr was in town a couple Saturdays ago.

You remember Starr. He was the Whitewater Special Prosecutor who turned an investigation of an Arkansas land deal into a Monica-Lewinsky-onher- knees expose.

Starr’s report, spread over the Internet for all to read, gave pornography a good name.

It also led to the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton and, more important, to the election (or at least the appointment by a 5-4 vote of the United States Supreme Court) of a governor noteworthy for his name and the respect for life he showed in approving the execution of a record number Texas death row prisoners.

Quite a guy, Ken Starr. Give him his share of credit for George W. Bush.

Well, anyway, he was in Honolulu two Saturdays ago for the annual Davis Levin First Amendment Conference sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. The ACLU billed the event as a debate between Starr and Nadine Strossen, the ACLU’s national president.

The 600 or so who gathered in the Coral Ballroom of the Hilton Hawaiian Village witnessed a courtly dance, tinged with laughter and much bonhomie, between Strossen and Starr.

It was all civility and case citations. Listening to the two of them, you would have thought the law an arcane science without any human consequences.

And Starr, whose legal toadies kept Lewinsky imprisoned in a hotel room in order to get dirt on Clinton, was all sweet reason and academic on-the-one-handthis, on-the-other-hand-that, befitting the dean of the Pepperdine University Law School, a West Coast academic outpost of conservatism.

For example, on the United States Congress’s stepping into the debate between Terri Schiavo’s parents and her husband over removing a feeding tube, Strossen found the politicians’ actions “unconstitutional on every ground.” Starr said gravely (and judiciously), “It was a close constitutional question.”

Sure it was. Sixteen courtrooms and the Supreme Court twice sided with Schiavo’s husband.

On some issues Strossen and Starr did — genuinely — agree: on whether the Republican majority in the United States Senate should change the filibuster rule in order to make it impossible for Democratic members to stop Bush’s court appointments, for example.

Strossen pointed out that the Senate makes its own rules and can do what it wants, but that historically the Senate has “a counter-majoritarian nature. And it should be remembered that Democratic senators represent more Americans than Republican senators do.”About 10 million more.

Starr opined that the Senate should maintain the filibuster rule: “The tool you take away may come back to haunt you.”

On the rancor over judicial appointments Starr kept returning to the case of Robert Bork, a man with a distinguished resume who was blocked for a Supreme Court nomination by Democrats who didn’t like his position on abortion and civil liberties.

“The Senate has the raw power,” said Starr, “to do what they will with an appointment. But elections have consequences, and it was imprudent for the Democrats to block the Bork appointment. An elected president had, after all, appointed him.”

Strossen countered that the president has a responsibility to be prudent in his appointments — to avoid ideological appointments, “particularly to the independent judiciary. An independent, non-partisan judgment is required.”

Then Starr intoned (gravely again): “I’m bothered by the continuing warfare in Washington, particularly over judicial appointments.”

Only a polite, aloha-ridden Hawaii audience would have allowed that one to get by without a chorus of guffaws. Ken Starr bemoaning the continuing warfare in Washington is like an arsonist preaching the need for smoke alarms.

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