Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders made a spectacle of himself, shouting "Tyrant!" But he also had a point.
Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders made a spectacle of himself, shouting "Tyrant!" But he also had a point.

It's a sweetly alarming image: Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders shouting "Tyrant! You are a tyrant!" at the Attorney General of the United States during a Federalist Society dinner in Washington, DC last week.

It was a Colonial-style insult followed by a public injury when, a few minutes later, Attorney General Mukasey fainted mid-speech (there was no connect-the-collapse causality, mind you).

"Tyrant" is a pregnant old-schoolism that triggers thoughts of King George III or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. John Wilkes Booth purportedly yelled "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" ("thus always to tyrants") after shooting Abraham Lincoln and bounding from the Presidential box at Ford's Theatre. (Sic Semper Tyrannis is also the official state motto of Virginia which puts Washington's gentle "Al-ki" to shame).

Justice Sanders may be a libertarian eccentric, prone to ill-considered outbursts. But give the magistrate his due: In the context of Mukasey's November 20 prepared remarks, the tyrant broadside appears to be deserved.

The spiel-in-question was part Federalist Society suck-up ("The Federalist Society should be proud of the role it played in supporting these judges"), part lament of the liberal media, and part defense of the indefensible. One choice passage:

And when people denounce a purported assault on the Geneva Conventions, you might expect some level of specificity in the charges. One cannot assault a treaty as an abstract concept; one can only violate the treaty by acting contrary to its words. The Geneva Conventions contain 319 articles, of which 315 are plainly addressed to armed conflicts among the nations that signed the Conventions. It is hardly surprising that the United States concluded that those provisions would not apply to the armed conflict against Al Qaeda, an international terrorist group and not, the last time I checked, a signatory to the Conventions.

Ick. Mukasey embraces the dubious inheritance of Alberto Gonzales without apology. Does that make him a tyrant? As Yeats wrote a long, long time ago, "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson