In a republic, the people’s voice is heard through the leaders they elect.
And so it goes in Idaho — or did until last Monday (Feb. 6).
During a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on rules proposed by the Public Defense Commission, senators of both parties complained bitterly that the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho had the audacity to encourage its members to email the committee members about their opposition to those proposed rules.
The rules lacked the one key component the commission should have included: caseload standards for defending attorneys. Without any standards — national until state data is compiled throughout 2017 — public defense attorneys will continue to be overburdened by intolerably high caseloads that undermine the constitutional right of those charged with crimes to an effective defense.
But the issue here is not the content — or lack of it — in the rules, but the hostility displayed by those occupying the Capitol. Our Statehouse is a place they all continually refer to as the People’s House, a place to hear from the very people who delegated to them their voice on the public policies of our state.
In addition to being roundly criticized for having the gall to mobilize 500 Idaho citizens to take an active role in their government, the ACLU representative was interrupted multiple times in trying to state the organization’s objections to the rules during the brief period the committee chair deigned to give them. The result was that the committee adopted the rules without understanding, apparently, the glaring omission that continues to threaten the constitutionality of Idaho’s public defender system.
Surprisingly, the outpouring of opposition to the rules from hundreds of ACLU members during the House committee’s deliberations created no admonitions. While the rules were also approved there, the objections of the ACLU sparked a vigorous debate among committee members.
Maybe Feb. 6 was just a bad day for those Senate Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t recall members of either the House or Senate publicly complaining about being deluged with emails and other contacts from anti-abortion groups when they have been passing those bills — 1990 specifically comes to mind.
I would hope this shameful behavior was not prompted by the source of these objections. They came from people whose concern is ensuring that all the rights guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions are protected.
Every elected official should be thankful such people believe it is still worth their time to contact them.
William Killen is a former Democratic legislator and is a member of the board of ACLU Idaho.