Debate Forum Left 09/08/10

Lamberth Got it Wrong

By Benjamin Tomkins

Benjamin Tomkins

We expect a lot intellectually from our federal judges when they rule on controversial issues. For instance, if they reason like Carrie Prejean that we should deny a group of people their civil rights because “that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be,” then they can expect to get a little chaffed. Like she did in that video. And that’s why I was so shocked by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s logic for issuing an injunction against President Obama’s executive order to expand federal funding to new embryonic stem cell lines. Lamberth clearly states that he only intends to stay Obama’s executive order regarding new lines of stem cells, but then articulates his point so terribly that he unintentionally ends up rescinding not only the status quo as Bush’s executive order defined it, but 11 years worth of statutory history regarding the interpretation of the issue. Now he starts off great by offering the following, clear analysis of the legal history of the issue:

Stem cells are amazing, and will dramatically
change our lives for the better. Embryonic stem cells are the most amazing kind, but because you have to destroy an embryo to get them, everyone agrees that we have to be very careful how we do it. That’s why, in 1996, Congress passed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which reads in part, that Congress “prohibited the use of federal funds for…research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed…” Basically, “Go ahead and do it but not with our money.” Then, in 1999, the courts ruled that because of how Dickey-Wicker is written, it actually only prohibits federal funding for research that harvests the cells. However, it’s perfectly OK to give federal dollars to research on the stem cells once you’ve got them. Furthermore, if that’s not what Congress intended to say, then they jolly well better go back and clarify the language.
Now Congress has had plenty of opportunities to alter Dickey-Wicker. As a matter of fact, in the last 11 years since that ruling they’ve voted on that language a whole bunch of times, and every time they’ve opted to keep it exactly the same and preserve the status quo. As a matter of fact, the only addendum to the status quo occurred in 2001 when President Bush issued an executive
order saying that we will only give federal dollars to stem cell lines that already exist. That is, until Obama issued an executive order freeing up funding for other embryonic stem cell lines in 2009.

It is at this point that Judge Lamberth
appears to come completely unglued from the picture of reality that he has just painted. He states that, because of the Dickey-Wicker language, “the unambiguous intent of Congress is to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds on ‘research in which a human embryo …(is) destroyed.’” Therefore, “had Congress intended to limit the Dickey-Wicker to only those discrete acts that result in the destruction of an embryo, like the derivation of ESCs, or to research on the embryo itself, Congress could have written the statute that way.”

Wait…what the hell? Five seconds ago he categorically stated that the intention of every Congress as of 1999 was to allow the exact opposite interpretation to be in effect. I mean, Lamberth said that not even President Bush believed that Congress intended to totally withhold federal funding for embryonic stem cell lines, and he was the biggest advocate against embryonic stem cells short of complete whack-jobs. But it gets better. Lamberth proceeds to dig his intellectual hole even deeper.

His second contention is even more ridiculous than the first one. He states that his intention with this injunction is merely to stay Obama’s order and maintain the status quo, and he supports this by saying, “the injunction,
however, would not seriously harm ESC researchers because the injunction would simply preserve the status quo…” That’s…I don’t…this man can’t possibly be serious. I mean, HOW?!? FOR GODSAKES MAN!!! You can’t tell us in one paragraph that the status quo is one thing and then base your conclusion on a totally different reality. Seriously, we institutionalize people against their will and put them on Thorazine for saying things like that! I absolutely cannot bring myself to find any rational reason for accepting
this man’s injunction, and although I have had to paraphrase because of space limitations, I have intentionally left myself a few words to issue the following challenge to my readers:

Go read that memorandum for yourself. Do your research as I have. If you can demonstrate that I have in any way misrepresented the facts of this case, then read the tagline of my bio below and write a letter to the editor explaining why I am full of crap. Bring it on.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO.  He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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