By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
MEYERSON: A huge issue in both L.A. and New York these days is police practices. The federal government is proposing to bring a civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD. Is this the kind of issue that you may be addressing in the course of the campaign?
NADER: When you get down to really local issues, you have to know the local facts. However, there are certain general standards for police. The first is whether they do a good job protecting the community, and in so doing, respect the legal and civil rights of people. The second is, what's the review process? Just as the Pentagon is subjected to civilian authority, police departments have to be subjected to civilian authority. Police often have a very tight bond with one another, because they often are frightened when they go into certain areas, they lose some of their buddies -- and they can't be expected to impartially hold themselves accountable. So there need to be civilian review boards.
The federal government just asked the states to establish special prosecutor units for police who end up killing innocent people, because there's such a closed society among the police and prosecutors. And you really have to upgrade the training. In the military, it's when there's a lack of training that you get those kinds of out-of-control situations.
There are other issues not often spoken about. For instance, there are 500 people in this country who are killed each year by hot pursuits -- the vast majority of which are not necessary, especially with modern technology and communication systems and helicopters. The police look at a teenager in a car who gives them the finger, and he speeds off, and then they speed off, and then a family sitting at a red light gets rear-ended and killed. That's the result of bad training. And in California, the police are almost immune from tort suits.
MEYERSON: Among people I know on the left, they have no doubt that you are programmatically superior to Gore -- that's not the issue. The one issue I hear coming up perhaps more than any other is fear of what Bush would do to the Supreme Court. There's no sense that Gore's appointments would be anything great, but there seems to be a gang of five justices right now on the court who are bent on chipping away at the 14th Amendment and bringing back states' rights. What's your response to that particular source of nervousness?
NADER: The Democrats managed to let the extreme wing of the Republican Party take over Congress. So now, when Supreme Court nominations come before the Senate, the Senate [Republicans] have a veto. Whatever differences there might be in the Supreme Court nominations of a Gore and a Bush are dramatically narrowed by the likes of [conservative Senate Judiciary Committee Chair] Orrin Hatch. And so we're likely to end up with people like [Clinton Supreme Court appointee] Stephen Breyer. Who's pretty pro-corporate and anti-regulatory, as he showed in an opinion three weeks ago.
MEYERSON: I agree that Breyer ain't no Brandeis, but by the same token, neither is he a Rehnquist or a Scalia, and these guys seem bent on bringing back a level of states' rights which you and I thought was long gone and buried.
NADER: Well, some of that is very good. In 1986, Rehnquist dissented against the decision that destroyed the whole citizen-utility-board movement. It was a case out of California where the state Public Utilities Commission required one of the power companies to put an insert in its bills, at no expense to itself, inviting people to join TURN [a citizen watchdog group over utility rates and practices]. Rehnquist said that was a proper regulatory move and the federal government had no business overturning it. It was overturned -- with Thurgood Marshall on the side of overturning it.
MEYERSON: So sometimes states' rights works.
NADER: Don't we want states' rights in the torts system? We have people in Congress who want to federalize the common law of torts, make it controlled by PAC-greased senators and legislators who never see a client, the people in court, the way the judges and juries do. There's a federal pre-emption in banking: I think that's bad. Federal pre-emption in controlling the transportation of radioactive waste, instead of dual jurisdiction.
MEYERSON: The theory being the states would obviously be more zealous about that.
NADER: Right. It was the federal government that got us into the WTO, which is a real pre-emption of local, state and federal sovereignty, to Geneva, Switzerland.
People aren't thinking when they have a knee-jerk response to the Supreme Court [issue]. First of all, they're never going to repeal Roe vs. Wade, because it would destroy the Republican Party. Nobody knows that better than the Republicans. Second, there's never been a retrenchment in civil rights since the Dred Scott decision. These things are not going to be pulled back -- and if they are, it would probably be the greatest source of a revival in civic action in our generation.
The other thing that's important is: Who nominated Warren, Brennan, Stevens, Blackmun and Souter [all liberal or moderate justices appointed by Republican presidents]? And who nominated "Whizzer" White [a center-right lunkhead appointed by John Kennedy]?
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