Jason Ravnsborg hired Connecticut lawyer and Tulane adjunct law professor Ross Garber, who has made a gig for himself as an impeachment defense expert, to come all the way to South Dakota to make opening and closing statements at his impeachment trial before the South Dakota Senate yesterday. In largely academic remarks that failed to touch on the specifics of the criminal actions and malfeasance in office that led the House to impeach Ravnsborg and the Senate to convict, remove, and disqualify Ravnsborg from public office, Garber told Senators that “It will be very hard to explain a conviction” to his law students.
Hey, law students! The South Dakota Senate removed the Attorney General from office for killing a man and lying about it. If Professor Garber will have a hard time explaining that, he must as bad of a teacher as he was yesterday a lawyer.
The arguments for impeachment and conviction, made yesterday by prosecuting attorneys Alexis Tracy and Mark Vargo, were straightforward and specific. The prosecution grounded its arguments in things Jason Ravnsborg said and did, in the plain and uncontested crime scene evidence and cell phone data analyzed and presented by law enforcement officers from South Dakota and North Dakota. The arguments against conviction from Garber, in both his opening and closing statements, were largely theoretical and historical. See KELO’s video of Garber’s opening statement here:
Garber referred to impeachment as conceived by the drafters of our federal Constitution and impeachments in other states, but he said little about the specifics of Ravnsborg’s case and little about the specifics of South Dakota’s constitutional provisions for impeachment. Garber didn’t come up with any new arguments for his closing statement. After sitting silently through about three hours of prosecution witness testimony and cross-examination and about 30 minutes of questions from Senators, which never touched on the issues Garber raised in his opening remarks, Garber delivered more apparently prepared remarks, without any substantive response to the evidence or arguments presented. In his opening and closing statements, Garber simply dumped his legal framework into the record without showing how that frame fit around the facts of this case presented yesterday in the South Dakota Senate Chamber.
Jason, seriously: at what point did you think it was a good idea to hinge half of your defense on having an out-of-state lawyer come read two speeches to South Dakota Senators and tell them to ignore the facts and vote on law-school-egghead stuff?
Garber’s central argument in opening and closing seemed to be that the Founders (and he spoke only of the nation’s Founders, not the dusty homesteaders and Republic-builders who drafted the South Dakota Constitution in 1889) intended to create “co-equal” branches of government which could never dominate other branches. Garber ignored the fact that this hallowed co-equality hinges on checks and balances, the ability of one branch to intervene when another branch or elements of another branch miscarry their duty. Garber contended that the Legislative Branch should lightly overturn the will of the voters expressed in their choice of Executive Branch leaders. But the Founders, in Philadelphia 1787 and Sioux Falls 1889, recognized that members of the Executive Branch could commit acts sufficiently harmful to the Republic that the Republic could not wait until the next election to remove those malefactors. Thus, impeachment, a sword the elected representatives of the people could hold over the heads of the elected executives of the people to remind them they didn’t have carte blanche until the next election to lie, connive, and run guys over on the shoulder of Highway 14. Far from a violation of branch coequality, impeachment is an expression, an affirmation of the idea that no branch of government may try to pull one over on the other branches or on the people.
Gee, Professor Garber, I’m not having trouble explaining why impeachment is cool in general and in the specific case of killer and liar Jason Ravnsborg, and I haven’t had breakfast yet. Maybe when you teach your next impeachment class at Tulane, you should invite me to be guest speaker.