On February 8th, the Washington Post ran a long story about the phenomenon known as jury nullification. “In courtrooms across the country,” it said, “an unprecedented level of jury activism is taking hold, a movement of people who are turning their back on the evidence they hear at trial and instead using the jury box as a bold form of civil protest.” The writer talked about several cases, including O.J. Simpson?s acquittal on murder charges, and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who was acquitted on corruption charges. In both cases, the defendants and most of the jurors were black.
Several days later, however, a white jury, the Senate of the United States, acquitted President Clinton of the articles of impeachment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. This wasn?t described in press reports as jury nullification, but that?s the way it looks. As Pat Buchanan put it, “Senate Democrats were never going to let Mr. Clinton be convicted, guilty or not, because he is one of them. If that meant letting him walk for crimes for which they would have gladly hanged Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George Bush, so be it.” Buchanan went on to say, “This city knows in its heart Bill Clinton is guilty. But because it hates the right more than it loves justice, it wanted him to get away with it and rejoices that he has gotten away with it.”
A feisty Miami Attorney, Jack Thompson, also sees the trial as a sham. The Internet news service, Newsmax dot com, reports that Thompson has announced his intention to represent more than a thousand American citizens, including former Clinton loyalist and now leading Clinton critic, Larry Nichols, in a federal lawsuit setting aside the Senate’s verdict in the Clinton impeachment trial. Thompson?s main contention is that the Senate failed its constitutional duty by not holding a legitimate trial. He points out that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter had said the two Articles of Impeachment were “not proven,” a reference to the fact that the House Trial Managers were prevented from presenting their case, including live witnesses. Thompson argues that the sham nature of the proceedings renders null and void any verdict.
Thompson will also argue that some of the jurors, or fact-finders, behaved improperly. He says the conduct of Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa was unconscionable. Harkin, who raised his hand and took a solemn oath to put aside partisanship and fairly consider all the facts and the law, pronounced on the eve of the “trial” that the Articles of Impeachment were “a pile of dung.” Furthermore, Senator Robert Byrd publicly announced that the President was in fact guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” but voted not to convict because of the economy and the polls. In the words of that Post story about jury nullification, he turned his back on the evidence.
Jack Thompson will argue that any and all Senators who violated their oaths, as did Senator Byrd, should have been barred, because of fact-finder misconduct, from voting on the Articles of Impeachment. Those who want to put this whole thing behind us have never met Jack Thompson.