Editorials that just say “tsk” are better left unwritten. The Sun-Times has fire in its belly, but not a single BTU was expended in the writing of the Tuesday editorial “Don’t make defendant pay for judge’s deadline error.” It concerned the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling the other day that told a prisoner in Ohio he was plum out of luck: Keith Bowles, a convicted murderer, had filed a notice of appeal a day before the deadline the judge had given him of February 26, 2004. But the judge was wrong–the statutory deadline was actually February 24. So the appellate court, claiming it lacked jurisdiction, refused to accept Bowles’s appeal. Now the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Clarence Thomas, has said this was the right call.
“If rigorous rules like the one applied today are thought to be inequitable,” Thomas blithely wrote, “Congress may authorize courts to promulgate rules that excuse compliance with the statutory time limits.” In other words–don’t blame us, blame Congress. But Thomas expressed concern that congressional meddling would lead to litigation that “would no doubt detract from the clarity of the rule.” He was bluntly speaking from the school of thought that our courts, especially our appellate courts, exist to defend the “rigor” and “clarity” of our laws, not to pursue something as nebulous and subjective as justice.“It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way,” said the minority opinion, written by David Souter. “There is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch.”
If the ruling in this case doesn’t trouble you, God help you. “A sad example of miserly jurisprudence,” said the Washington Post. “A ruling that was so wrong and mean-spirited that it seemed like an outtake from MTV’s practical joke show ‘Punk’d,’” said the New York Times. “Blindly rigid,” said the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Even if this language has the ring of boilerplate it’s the right boilerplate, the kind reserved for high indignation. “We think he got a bum deal,” the Sun-Times pouted. “The majority didn’t have to be so rigid.”
What about the Tribune? you’re asking. The Tribune–if I’m not mistaken–didn’t write a single word. Not a word of coverage. Not a word of editorial comment. Is anything more devastating than the silent treatment?