Above the Law

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court last month sided against John Thompson, a former Louisiana prison inmate who sat on death row for 14 years until proof surfaced that prosecutors had withheld evidence of his innocence. The Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. (the father of the famous pop singer) could be held liable for poorly training Thompson’s prosecutors with respect to their obligations to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence.

The Court’s decision is another black mark against the U.S. legal system, according to Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory. The Court “essentially immunized the entire municipality” against lawsuits for misconduct and represents “the newest peak into the gross corruption of American criminal justice, and a reminder of what government power means,” he writes in an op-ed published in the Birmingham News.

More concretely, not only must Thompson forgo the $14 million in damages awarded by the lower court, but he must also cope with the knowledge that a couple of his prosecutors still practice law. These injustices should anger all Americans, Gregory argues. “State criminality is above the legal standards that apply to the rest of us,” he laments. “This is the real nature of government–the right of state agents to do what would be criminal if done by common people.”

“Putting Prosecutors above the Law,” by Anthony Gregory (Birmingham News, 4/5/11)

The Pursuit of Justice: Law and Economics of Legal Institutions, edited by Edward J. López