Justice & Politickin', Crockett-Style

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so he knew ev'ry tree, kilt him a b'ar when he was only three... These words, of course, are the first stanza from the Ballad of Davy Crockett. Once portrayed by John Wayne (a Republican) and now by Billy Bob Thornton (a Democrat), he was played best, I reck'n, by Fess Parker (not sure of his pol...

04/01/2004


Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so he knew ev'ry tree, kilt him a b'ar when he was only three...

These words, of course, are the first stanza from the Ballad of Davy Crockett . Once portrayed by John Wayne (a Republican) and now by Billy Bob Thornton (a Democrat), he was played best, I reck'n, by Fess Parker (not sure of his political affiliation). Crockett himself was a Whig. I know this only because my seven-year-old is writing a report on this hero of the Alamo. Anyway, I bring up this very distant ancestor for two reasons: First, this issue examines justice facilities, and I want to put a focus on the notion of a judge. Second, recent actions by Congress have evoked in me much the same reaction that caused Davy to leave Washington D.C. and head for then-independent Texas.

Davy, according to the book my son's using for his report, was appointed a local judge in his neck of the woods on the basis of his honesty and good common sense. Later, he was elected state representative and then congressman. As the song points out, Davy was an Indian fighter during in the Creek uprising. Later, however, he was a fair arbitrator and helped enact treaties, which he honored, with the Native Americans. In his time in Washington, however, Crockett became upset with President Andrew Jackson and several of his fellow congressmen who wished to violate those treaties and take away the lands promised to the Indians. He was so upset, in fact, that he tried to run for president against Jackson, but his campaign was nipped in the bud by what he termed political "rascalism." Some things never change.

Lo, these many years later, in the Crockett tradition of integrity—and vocality—I feel obligated to point out that Congress is up to a heinous act of what I'll call "election-year rascalism." As a journalist and former broadcaster, I am disturbed that the House, almost unanimously, approved a bill allowing the Federal Communications Commission to levy extreme fines against broadcasters whom they believe are acting indecently. Much of this rises from the schtick of people like Howard Stern. Personally, I find Stern repetitive and choose not to listen. That's my choice. I also choose to not let my children listen to such programs on the radio or TV. Again my choice. This bill, however, would deny fundamental First Amendment rights, regardless of whether what's being protected is tasteless. What's next—this column?

Our cover story speaks to the high standards and efficiencies being built into new federal courthouses by the General Services Administration—far-sighted decisions counciled by engineers that will help these buildings run for decades. In these more comfortable and efficient settings, let's trust judges—the governmental branch responsible for examining constitutional issues—to do their jobs. It's also my hope that the even-keeled logic of engineers can be as much of an influence on Congress as they are with agencies like GSA. To see what some fellow engineers are doing on the Hill, turn to p. 14.





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