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The Affliction of Judicial Affluenza [Updated]*

I normally don’t post here about high-profile news stories on which I have nothing, really, to add to what has been reported extensively in news stories or argued in opinion pieces in the mainstream media.  So my first inclination when I saw an email from Dan Crawford yesterday suggesting that I post on the affluenza manslaughter-defense news story out of Texas on Thursday, I said to myself, “Nah. Why bother to repeat the obvious.”

But I clicked the link Dan had sent me anyway.  It was to an article on the ThinkProgress website, titled “How A Teen Successfully Used His Wealth As A Defense For Killing Four People,” by Nicole Flatow and Judd Legum, posted there on Thursday.  I already knew how that teen successfully used his wealth as a defense for killing four people.  I already had read a couple of articles about it, so I knew the specifics of the successful argument made to the judge.  And I know enough about the judicial system in this country to recognize that the reason this argument succeeded was not that the teen has affluenza but that the judge does.

It is a common affliction among American judges and justices in many, many American legal jurisdictions, state and federal, and has been at epidemic levels since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.  It is, as it turns out, highly contagious, spreading to state courts and from one federal judge to another from various high-profile members of the federal judiciary, most prominently but of course by no means exclusively, the members of the United States Supreme Court.  The latter have effectively limited access to that court to rightwing state attorneys general challenging grants of habeas corpus petitions by the only two federal appellate courts that still grant them (the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, and the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati) and to corporations and very wealthy individuals represented by one of a handful of Washington, D.C.-based Supreme Court “specialists” whose actual specialty is gaining automatic attention initially from the justices’ law clerks and then from the justices themselves.

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