Friday cartoon

I am in my second week of grand jury duty in Travis County. Before we began, the three grand juries operating at once in three-month intervals went through two days of training by the District Attorney’s Office and leaders of various police departments about the kinds of cases we will most likely be hearing.

The training was an eye-opener. Most impressive: the character and competence of the lawyers and leaders of law enforcement, including those overseeing family violence, burglary and robbery, drugs, arson, child abuse and more. All of this was framed by the judge who selected us. Repeated throughout our training: grave admonitions to be impartial, to remember that our task was to “bill or no bill” an indictment on the basis of probable cause. We were assured the district attorney’s staff, law enforcement and others would attempt to answer any and all questions that members of the grand jury might have.

It has been impossible not to draw parallels with the impeachment saga raging in Washington, D.C., and dominating TV news coverage and major daily newspapers. The bills of impeachment from the “grand jury” of the House of Representatives are based on probable cause, though in this case they’re bolstered by a huge amount of evidence, notwithstanding White House efforts to ignore congressional subpoenas and withhold key documents and witnesses.

Now the impeachment case has gone to trial in the Senate. Supposedly the Senate is an impartial jury, having taken signed vows to be so, even amidst the deep political forces tearing our nation apart. Perhaps such vows were required because the Founding Fathers and others knew deep political differences would arise over time. But in this trial, senators were asked to do what many of them as lawyers have asked past juries to do: No matter what you think of the charges brought, no matter what biases you might have one way or the other, you vow to be impartial regarding the person or persons accused till you have heard all of the evidence.

So far, the two U.S. senators representing Texas are demonstrating behavior contrary to what we’ve learned in a grand jury. Starting abruptly before the impeachment trial, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s Facebook page lit up after a period of relative dormancy. Cruz seems to be using every break in Senate trial proceedings to make a new statement or do another interview, each decrying the House Democrats and the process. For instance, at one point this supposedly impartial legal mind — a former solicitor general for the state of Texas, no less — proclaimed proudly he was a “consistent defender of the president’s throughout the entirety of Democrats’ partisan impeachment push.” Try that sort of thing before any real U.S. judge in a legal setting.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s emails and Facebook page have shifted from dire warnings about nefarious forces seeking to turn Texas blue to alarmist declarations that the embattled president is innocent and the impeachment process invalid. Wednesday, for instance, this former district judge, former state attorney general and former Texas Supreme Court justice invited Facebook friends to click a link to a TV interview with Cornyn “discussing the House’s partisan, rushed impeachment inquiry.” In short, our senators’ vows of impartiality mean little. Instead they offer compelling evidence they have no respect for the public roles to which they were elected.

Their minds are made up, their pledges are worthless.

We have yet to see whether, like members of any other jury, they will want to see all relevant evidence. We have yet to see whether their steep legal backgrounds and constitutional ethics will compel them to take umbrage at claims by the accused Republican president that his cohorts are immune from testimony (unless pleading the Fifth). If our senators and others don’t demonstrate this interest in hard evidence and concern about dubious notions of Article II immunity, then they too become part of the White House cover-up. If they have already made up their minds that the president is innocent, if they’re sincere in their belief, one might expect them to push for introduction of all evidence so the president can be fully, publicly and legally exonerated. Right?

To fail in this regard leaves only one conclusion: The senators know in their hearts the president is guilty. If key evidence is not brought forward now, it will surface over time, well after the charade of the moment is over. History will not be kind to these lawmakers.

At least our two senators should be honest enough to acknowledge that they see themselves as part of the president’s legal defense team and not as impartial jurors. Given their public comments, any ethical, self-respecting judge would immediately banish them from any courtroom. Assuming the pair continue to thumb their noses at their constitutional responsibilities and vows of impartiality, the public will have no option but to become even more cynical about them as public servants. They distinguish themselves as worthy of dismissal from other constitutional duties through our passing judgment at the ballot box.

Former Wacoan Bill Gaventa, now living in Austin, is founder and director emeritus of Institute on Theology and Disability and head of the National Collaborative on Faith and Disability.

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