Ken at Popehat finds my and others’ reaction to Michael Shermer’s letter requesting lenient sentencing for Dinesh D’Souza depressing.
D’Souza’s attorneys are asking the court to exercise its discretion to go below the Guidelines and impose a non-custodial sentence — not to send him to jail, in other words. That’s not even a little surprising. I would do the same thing. So would any competent defense attorney. Given D’Souza’s lack of record and his background, it’s a reasonable and achievable goal. It’s no sure thing, but many judges would do it. (If anything D’Souza’s privileges work against him on this issue — the “rich and famous people shouldn’t get special treatment” narrative will be powerful. With some judges he’d have a better shot at the break if he were an obscure middle manager.)
Well, the “and his background” clause is an issue, isn’t it. “And his background” could mean “with his background he should know better” or “with his background he has less excuse for fucking up” or similar thoughts along those lines. There’s also the fact that with his background, he was and will continue to be in a position to do more harm than most people can.
Shermer, who has debated D’Souza, says he has known him for twenty years and finds him forthright, honest, polite, and courteous. Shermer expresses his admiration and respect for D’Souza. To anyone who practices federal law, there’s nothing at all remarkable about the letter.
I get that, but on the other hand…again, there’s some privilege-deployment here. D’Souza can call on some Names for these letters. He has advantages, and that’s one of them. The whole setup seems less than impartial. It may all be very normal and routine, but that’s not the same as okie doke and harmless.
But the mild letter has provoked outrage, because of Shermer’s and D’Souza’s opposite ideological positions. This blogger screams “TRAITOR.” Ophelia Benson characterizes it as “Important Guys gotta stick together.” ““WTF?” asks P.Z. Myers. “Let D’Souza’s fellow Christians and conservatives defend him. Shermer by doing this has betrayed most of the skeptical community,” says someone on Twitter. “No one deserving of the title ‘skeptic’ could possibly believe that D’Souza is forthright and honest, or that he is an ‘important voice in our national conversation,'” says skeptic Ed Brayton. I’ll spare you the quotes from Twitter.
Is it really wrong to think that professional skeptics shouldn’t go to bat for convicted frauds?
The reaction to Shermer’s letter disappoints me. It depresses me. It doesn’t make me feel that way because of how I feel about D’Souza. It makes me feel that way as a defense lawyer, and as a citizen. This scorn for appeals for mercy is an old story; I’ve condemned it before when someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum was sentenced. But it troubles me every time it repeats. It would be a better nation if people could recognize the good qualities of people they vehemently oppose. It would be a better nation if we were wary of the justice system no matter what the ideology of today’s defendant.
No I really don’t think it’s ideology. The issue is the attitude to truth, not the ideology.