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November 5, 2008

Has a mega-jury in Alaska essentially rejected the DC jury's conviction of Senator Stevens?

There are so many sentencing stories worth discussing in the wake of the results of Tuesday's historic election.  But the race and the issues that I am most focused upon this morning may take weeks to resolve, as detailed in this local story:

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was leading challenger Mark Begich with most of the election returns in hand Tuesday night, despite being found guilty of seven felonies and polls showing him in deep trouble. With more than 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Stevens held a 2-percentage point advantage over Democrat Begich. About 4,000 votes separated the candidates. The razor-thin margin means the Senate race might not be decided for two weeks.

Still to be counted are roughly 40,000 absentee ballots, with more expected to arrive in the mail, as well as 9,000 uncounted early votes and thousands of questioned ballots. The state Elections Division has up to 15 days after the election to tally all the remaining ballots before finalizing the count.

If the lead holds, Stevens will shock the nation and be the first person ever re-elected to the U.S. Senate after being found guilty on criminal charges. Polls had shown the Republican down by at least 8 percentage points on the day before the election. But Stevens was defying the pollsters with Tuesday's returns.

In this post following his conviction, I asked whether persons interested in federal sentencing reforms should root for Senator Stevens to be re-elected on the theory that he (and his many Senate friends) might now be much more sympathetic to arguments that federal judges need to have broad discretion to consider mitigating factors at sentencing.  The more I have through about the issue, the more strongly I am hoping that Senator Stevens prevails in this tight election AND that he refuses to resign and resists all efforts to expel him from the Senate.

I have become a huge fan of Senator Stevens and a close watcher of Alaska's voting realities because his re-election will raise a host of fascinating legal and political issues relating to criminal appeals, sentencing, clemency and democratic theory.  The title of this post set out just one of the many questions bouncing around my brain this morning: should we view re-election of Senator Stevens as a de facto rejection by the mega-jury of Alaskan citizens of the guilty verdicts return by the DC jury that concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a federal criminal?  Or should we view Alaskans as saying that even if Senator Stevens is a federal criminal, we still want him representing our interests in the US Senate?

Some recent related posts:

November 5, 2008 at 08:14 AM | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Just as Minnesotans may yet prefer a bad comedian over anything from the GOP, Alaskans may just happen to prefer a criminal who brings home the pork to anything the Democrats have.

(2) Perhaps it's strategic. If he's finally convicted, he'll leave and Palin will appoint a successor. Again, maybe it was just a party-line vote and would have come out the same if some other Republican had been on the ballot.

(3) Scumbags and criminals are elected to office all of the time. It doesn't mean that the voters think they're innocent--rather, it means that the voters don't think that the crimes are a dealbreaker.

(4) Why are you a "huge fan of Senator Stevens?"

Posted by: | Nov 5, 2008 9:12:24 AM

I have become a huge fan of Senator Stevens because he has not let prosecutorial allegations or even a guilty jury verdict define who he is or what he can still accomplish in his life. I tell so many that I do not like when persons are forever judged by their single worst act(s), and I am intrigued to discover that many Alaskans share my (peculiar? hopeful? progressive?) perspective.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 5, 2008 9:46:17 AM

You have a lower threshold of fandom than I, professor.

I don't envy the poor AUSA who gets stuck writing the appellee's brief in this case. That incident with the juror and the Breeders' Cup is bizarre.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 5, 2008 11:20:32 AM

Given how many alleged/proven criminals have fans because of their abilities on the playing field --- ranging from Pete Rose to Roger Clemens to the recently traded Allen Iverson --- I do not think it is too strange for a nerd like me to become a fan of alleged/proven criminal because of his abilities in the political arena.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 5, 2008 11:43:04 AM

From my inside view from Petersburg, AK, I would simply call it a rejection of the challenger. When you have a state where someone with Palin's views can gain the governor's seat you start to get a feeling for the deep distrust of much of the core Democratic platform, despite the occasional libertarian wild streak.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 5, 2008 11:47:50 AM

I suspect a decent number of Alaskans are relying on Stevens resigning or being removed from the Senate; a lot of them would rather put up with a crook for a little while longer and then elect someone in a special election than give a Democrat 6 whole years. Cf. anonymous (2) above.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 5, 2008 11:53:20 AM

Maybe you've lived in a place with competitive elections too long Professor. In a state nominated by one political party, a 2 percentage point victory by that party's candidate is actually a major rebuke.

Posted by: Zack | Nov 5, 2008 12:18:14 PM

Also of note: McCain won 62% of the vote in Alaska, Stevens won 48% (according to the figures posted on the MSN homepage). Stevens was thus, 14% points behind his party's presidential nominee - hardly a ringing endorsement.

And that election is still too close to call (latest figures show him up by 1 percentage point)

Posted by: Zack | Nov 5, 2008 12:25:21 PM

This is partially strategic voting. A vote for Stevens is a vote for Palin or her designee.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Nov 5, 2008 9:53:35 PM

Kent Scheidegger wrote: "I don't envy the poor AUSA who gets stuck writing the appellee's brief in this case. That incident with the juror and the Breeders' Cup is bizarre."

Interesting how Kent takes the Defendant's side the one time the Defendant is a conservative Republican. It's not about politics, though. It's about this grand thing called law and order, right? You kill me.

Posted by: DK | Nov 6, 2008 12:22:53 AM

DK is doing Rorschach projections again. I most certainly did not take Stevens's side. Quite the contrary, my initial point was to disagree with Doug's "fan" comment. Saying the prosecution is going to have a difficult time in the appeal is quite obviously not saying I want them to lose.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 6, 2008 12:05:59 PM

Like you, I find this most interesting. As a former prosecutor, Stevens knows how to use the law to his advantage in terms of when a person is convicted. But this is not the reason why I find the case interesting.

I find it so because perhaps the people in Alaska who voted for him 1. are too interested in the small town mentality versus a more progressive mentality of holding people accountable for their actions, 2. do not believe he was guilty in the first place and think it's all about politics (perhaps Sarah Palin leaning towards deception during the campaign has not only aided President elect Barack Obama get elected, but her deceptive words have also assisted Stevens or perhaps they realized that Palin will say or do whatever it takes to win an election), 3. have no respect for the legal system and the decision reached by those on the jury, 4. feel the sentence Stevens will face is in excess, therefore Alaskans vote for Stevens as a sort of social nullification of the law, and/or 5. are blindly loyal to Stevens.

However, there is no point that holds my interest more than the realization that it may be more important for the American people to invade the privacy of a family by expecting that a man be faithful to his spouse, that a man not court prostitutes, than that a man be found to have violated the law and sown corruption in high places to the point of affecting an entire group of people, political, and, social system.

Posted by: Ange | Nov 6, 2008 2:24:16 PM

Doug: I have become a huge fan of Senator Stevens because he has not let prosecutorial allegations or even a guilty jury verdict define who he is or what he can still accomplish in his life. I tell so many that I do not like when persons are forever judged by their single worst act(s), and I am intrigued to discover that many Alaskans share my (peculiar? hopeful? progressive?) perspective.

I agree with your point in general, but at the same time, I like for things to be even all the way around. As I stated before, if we are going to be ok with Stevens not allowing circumstances define who he is and set a limit to what he can accomplish, then the same goes for those in society, criminals, that have been convicted of a crime, and other public figures that have been, in essence, rejected by some stupid act that does not society in general.

Posted by: Ange | Nov 6, 2008 2:29:06 PM

It's a most beautiful day when justice is carried out.

Spitzer, the prostitution ring, and the law. http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/11/06/spitzer.no.charges/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

Posted by: | Nov 6, 2008 7:55:29 PM

Eugene Volokh makes essentially the same point about Stevens's temporariness: http://volokh.com/posts/1226028108.shtml

Posted by: Chris | Nov 6, 2008 10:43:19 PM

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