Monday, April 13, 2009

Distorting the Record at the University of Virginia

Talk about intellectual dishonesty! In the age of Google, it is truly remarkable that anyone would make a statement in print -- and in the Washington Post, no less -- that is so easy to disprove.

Last week in the Post's Metro opinion section, Karin Agness wrote about student protests over the choice of federal Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson to be the University of Virginia's commencement speaker. This past Sunday, Amelia Meyer explained some of the reasons for those protests against Wilkinson, a Charlottesville resident who sits on the bench of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond:

Wilkinson's arguments against gay marriage were made clear in an article he wrote for The Post in 2006. The thrust of his argument was that matters of family law shouldn't be dealt with constitutionally. But he further argued against the very idea of gay marriage, writing, "Marriage between male and female is more than a matter of biological complementarity. . . . Without strong family structures, there will be no stable and healthy social order, and alternative marriage structures might weaken the sanction of law and custom necessary for human families to flourish and children to grow." It is this statement with which a number of U-Va students take issue, rightly seeing it as a threat and an insult to many gay students and advocates.
Meyer had to work extra hard to take Wilkinson's words out of context and misrepresent what he said. That's because Wilkinson's original article, appearing in the Washington Post on September 5, 2006, was an argument against banning gay marriage through amendments to either the federal or state constitutions. His point was precisely the opposite of what Meyer claims it was.

Wilkinson said, in part:
To constitutionalize matters of family law is to break with state traditions. The major changes in family law in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the recognition of married women's property rights and the liberalization of divorce, occurred in most states at the statutory level. Even the infamous bans on interracial marriage were adopted nonconstitutionally by 35 states, and by constitutional amendment in only six....

Is it too much to ask that judges and legislatures acknowledge the difficulty of this debate by leaving it to normal democratic processes? In fact, the more passionate an issue, the less justification there often is for constitutionalizing it. Constitutions tempt those who are way too sure they are right. Certainty is, to be sure, a constant feature of our politics -- some certainties endure; others are fated to be supplanted by the certainties of a succeeding age. Neither we nor the Framers can be sure which is which, but the Framers were sure that we should debate our differences in this day's time and arena. It is sad that the state of James Madison and John Marshall will in all likelihood forsake their example of limited constitutionalism this fall. Their message is as clear today as it was at the founding: Leave constitutions alone.
Wilkinson was writing in the midst of the debate in Virginia over the so-called Marshall-Newman Amendment, which appeared on the ballot in the fall 2006 election. (It passed and made it unconstitutional for same-sex couples to marry in Virginia.) For a conservative jurist to go on the record against that amendment (as well as the Federal Marriage Amendment favored by President George W. Bush) when being silent would have been the more prudent course (politically speaking) does Judge Wilkinson great honor.

It does him great dishonor when people like Meyer lie about the record. It says a lot about Meyer's dishonesty that she is willing to distort the record when it is so easy, as they say, to go look it up. I don't know whether to be more disturbed by Meyer's intellectual dishonesty or by her intellectual snobbishness -- that is, her thinking that readers of the Washington Post are too stupid to see through her editorial sleight-of-hand.

It is noteworthy that, in her piece, Agness was identified by the Post as
a law student at the University of Virginia and founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, a national organization for conservative college women.
The Post did not identify Meyer beyond her name. So, for the record, let's note that she describes herself on her Facebook page as a member of the UVA class of 2009 and as "very liberal" in her political views. She also says she is a fan of both the Colbert Report and the Human Rights Campaign. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but let's make sure that the record is complete as well as, pardon the expression, set straight.

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James Young said...

I knew there was something that bothered me about that article, aside from being a ridiculous fit of PC BS.

J.R.Hoeft said...

It's a shame that someone has to twist and manipulate another person's words to meet their own political agenda.

Context is everything - and Wilkinson certainly appears to have the right context on this matter.

He seems to be the target of political expediency.