George Melloan, the deputy editor, international, of The Wall Street Journal, has recently written two columns (here and here) in which he has addressed a common topic on this blog — i.e., the increasing criminalization in American society of ordinary business practices. Following on those columns, Mr. Melloan notes in this WSJ ($) column that the equally dubious criminalization of politics that is evident in the Scooter Libby indictment is a likely precursor of an even greater threat to freedom in American society:
The prosecutorial tsunami that has swept through a land teeming with lawyers and litigants has now come lapping up on the shores of the First Amendment. Now that politics has been criminalized, can reporting on politics be far behind?
If that sounds far-fetched, think how far prosecutors and state attorneys general have managed to stretch the reach of the law, tolerated by judges and a gullible press. A huge accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, was wiped out by an indictment because it failed to uncover the Enron fraud, something accountants are ill-equipped to do. Sarbanes-Oxley makes it hazardous to manage a company or sit on a corporate board because of the new liabilities it imposes. . . And then there’s Eliot Spitzer, an AG who specializes in extracting confessions to non-crimes.
The next big story will be the debate over Mr. Bush’s new nominee for the Supreme Court, Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito. Advance word is that he, like sitting Justice Antonin Scalia, is concerned about abuses of constitutional law. That won’t save Scooter Libby from the ordeal he faces, but the high court is very much in need of such views.
Finally, as noted earlier here, having encouraged abuse of state power against unpopular business executives, the Bush Administration and Republican-controlled Congress are now in no position to rein in similar abuses toward the unpopular politician of the moment.
What a mess!