Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted

by Walter Olson on August 17, 2014

Never mind what rightish pundits have to say about the Perry indictment. Leftish pundits like Jonathan Chait are tearing it to shreds all by themselves. It reminds me of when prosecutor Andrew Thomas, sidekick of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, pressed charges against some of Arpaio’s political rivals over actions within their official authority, an episode that ended with Thomas’s disbarment. Chait:

They say a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and this always seemed like hyperbole, until Friday night a Texas grand jury announced an indictment of governor Rick Perry. The “crime” for which Perry faces a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison is vetoing funding for a state agency. …

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves.

When you’ve lost not just David Axelrod and Matt Yglesias but even Jonathan Chait and Scott Lemieux for a legal complaint against a conservative, you’re not just aboard a sinking ship, it’s more like you’re grasping a piece of random driftwood.

P.S. John Steele Gordon, Commentary: “the blow back from left, right, and center is so intense that Perry may well be the first public official to actually gain political clout from being indicted.” (& welcome Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog readers)

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Governor Rick Perry loses his right to buy guns or ammo - Overlawyered
08.27.14 at 9:30 am

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1 Thufir_Hawat 08.17.14 at 4:23 pm

Perry was never going to lose his tea party base, but the People’s Republic of Austin has just made him look like he deserves sympathy handed him a what will eventually be a victory lap, something he could never have done on his own. Way to go.

2 Erc 08.17.14 at 9:19 pm

“… it’s more like you’re grasping a piece of random driftwood.”

Apparently Wendy Davis’s campaign was not just a Texas Democratic fluke…it’s the model.

3 asdfasdf 08.18.14 at 1:57 pm

Politically motivated indictments against sitting conservative politicians for political reasons are still unusual: only the cases of Perry, DeLay, Libby and Stevens come to mind for now.

More effective is politically motivated civil and criminal action against corporations, such as the Gibson and FedEx cases, for instance. Because most of antitrust and environmental law is as a practical matter up to the discretion of the relevant regulatory agencies, there is a strong financial incentive for CEOs to align their own and their company’s politics with the government’s.

Once this dynamic starts, it can’t be stopped, and we will likely see Democrats cementing their hold over the board room as effectively as they’ve done in, say, university English or Political Science departments.

The lesson of Perry episode is therefore not that one can, if an indictment is sufficiently absurd, successfully contest it.

Instead, the lesson is that large parts of the Democratic establishment support even an indictment as absurd as this. That establishment can’t actually hurt Perry much, but they are the ones who control many of the large federal agencies with discretionary litigation power.

Since Republicans ipso facto support less discretionary litigation power by federal agencies, Republicans cannot compete in this arena as effectively as Democrats, which is why I say this trend is inexorable.

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