Wall Street Journal legal blogger Nathan Koppel claims Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement has begun "to embrace left-leaning causes." As evidence, he cites Clement's representation of Curtis McGhee Jr. and Terry Harrington, who were wrongfully convicted of a 1977 murder in Iowa after police and prosecutors fabricated evidence against them. They spent 25 years in prison before they were exonerated. In a case the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear next month (recently discussed here by Radley Balko), McGhee and Harrington argue that the prosecutors who framed them should not receive "absolute immunity" from liability for violating their civil rights.
Koppel is not alone in believing that it's surprising for a conservative to support that argument; the National Law Journal profile on which he draws (headlined "To Build Practice, Ex-Bush SG Embraces Liberal Clients") likewise plays up Clement's involvement in the case as dog-bites-man story. But how "left-leaning" must one be to think that prosecutors should be held responsible for knowingly using trumped-up evidence to convict innocent men and send them to prison for the rest of their lives? It may be a mark of state-worshipping authoritarianism to automatically side with the government in such a case, but is it really a mark of conservatism? I am honestly not sure, because it's not clear to me what it means to be a conservative, but Koppel seems to think so.
The lineup in this case suggests otherwise. As Balko noted, the left-of-center Obama administration is supporting the prosecutors, and so is the National Association of District Attorneys, along with the attorneys general of 27 states and the District of Columbia. Surely there are at least a few "left-leaning" officials among these advocates of absolute immunity for prosecutorial abuses. Perhaps the positions they're taking depend on the positions they hold, as opposed to their ideologies or their party affiliations. People's enthusiasm for limits on state power tends to wane when they wield it and wax when they don't. As Clement himself says when asked to explain his choice of clients, "What it signifies is that I'm no longer working for the government."
[Thanks to Manny Klausner for the tip.]