From South Carolina, With Apologies to the Constitution

by Brett Bursey on March 27, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appointed Scott Schools as the new U.S. Attorney for Northern California — whose office is currently prosecuting Josh Wolf. The following is from a South Carolinian familiar with Mr. Schools’ past.

The first time I remember hearing Scott Schools’ name was when he announced that I was being charged with a federal crime under the Threats to the President statute. During an October 2002 protest of the President’s visit to Columbia, South Carolina, I had refused to go to a free speech zone — a half-mile from where George Bush was speaking at a Republican fundraiser. Schools was the spokesperson for the US Attorney — Strom Thurmond Jr.

Thurmond Jr. had been appointed to the office as a going-away present to his venerable father, and at 28, had been alive for a shorter time than most US Attorneys had been practicing law. It was understood that Thurmond Jr. was not running the office and that Deputy US Attorney Schools was really running the show.

Mr. Schools recently came to my attention after his appointment as Interim US Attorney of the Northern District of California. I feel compelled to share with his new constituency some concerns about Mr. Schools’ ultimate allegiances and what they can expect under his watch.

I was originally charged under a state misdemeanor trespassing law that I knew would not hold up in court. How did I know? I remembered a similar incident in 1969: same airport, different Republican president, different war, same charges. Eleven students were arrested protesting the Vietnam war that day in almost the same location. The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned that conviction, finding that one couldn’t trespass on public property. I was one of those students.

So when the police told me that I would be arrested for trespassing on public property if I didn’t go to the “free speech zone” with my “No More War for Oil” sign, I experienced a most profound case of deja view. I knew that what they were demanding was illegal.

A friend who had come to protest Bush’s environmental policies was standing next to me in tears when the police ordered us to leave the area. She was the only care provider for her disabled Vietnam Vet husband, and was terrified of of her own government. When she left, I was the last protestor standing in the crowd waiting to see Bush. It occurred to me that if everyone obeys illegal orders because they are afraid, we have lost the First Amendment and the country I believe in.

So I told the police to do what they had to do, because I had to stand there peacefully with my sign. They handcuffed me, put me in a paddy wagon. There, with my hands bound behind my back, through the bars over the windows, I had the unique experience of watching the president get off Air Force One and enter the hanger. There he told the assembled crowd, “They hate us because we are so free.”

Four months later, the state charges were dropped and Mr. Schools announced the Feds were pressing charges. I became the first person ever prosecuted under this statute, which was enacted in 1971. The Patriot Act has since elevated this offence to a felony.

At the insistence of Mr. Schools’ office, I was put on pre-trial probation that included travel restrictions, drug testing and reporting weekly to the US Marshals Service. I was denied a jury trial (an obscure federal statute allows bench trials for those facing less than six months in jail), convicted, and fined $500. After the US Supreme Court denied my appeal, we held a “Pay-in for Free Speech” at the federal court house, where others outraged at the conviction stepped up to pay my fine in hundreds of one-dollar bills.

I argued at trial that the Secret Service is being used as an armed political advance team for the president. They are stretching the law to protect the president’s political security. Their mission to protect the president has been perverted to insure that protesters are not seen in the same picture with the president. Mr. Schools’ office implemented this assault on my constitutional rights.

I have never met Mr. Schools, although I understand this is not unusual because he was known as the “office politician” who didn’t spend much time in court. He is known as a polite and likeable fellow who comes from a wealthy family in Charleston. He has contributed over $11,000 to the Republican Party since Bush took office.

Waring Howe Jr., a Charleston attorney and Democrat, notes, “Schools has enough money that he doesn’t have to practice law. It’s more of a form of recreation for him. He’s been programmed as a Republican operative for the past 20 years, and is a perfect stalking horse for an ideologue like George Bush.”

On behalf of South Carolinians who believe in the Constitution and equal justice for all, we apologize to the people of the Northern Judicial District of California for sending you a Republican Party functionary to enforce your laws.

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