Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on outrage in the courtroom:
The justice system in Texas is usually thought of as one of the toughest in the world, with frequent criticism of the state's use of the death penalty. But now a Texas judge is drawing criticism for being too lenient in his sentence in the case of a teenager who killed four people while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
It's easy to see why. The judge gave the boy probation and turned him loose, shocking the families of those he killed when he plowed into a disabled vehicle parked on the side of the road.
A psychologist described the boy as a victim of "affluenza" to deflect responsibility from the boy whose blood alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit when tested after the accident. From a wealthy family, he had never been taught to take responsibility for himself, he argued, and he had been raised with a sense of entitlement and privilege that impaired his judgment.
While defendants can file appeals, once a judge pronounces sentence in a criminal case — as long as it's within legal guidelines and the judge is not illegally influenced — that's usually the end of it. The prosecution can't appeal.
Criticisms aren't always about leniency. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently suggested in an opinion that some Alabama judges were overriding jury recommendations to impose death sentences to help their chances of being re-elected.
The "affluenza" term in the Texas case is destined to take its place beside the "Twinkie defense" in the nation's judicial lore. That Twinkie defense was actually a media invention in a California murder trial in which the defendant was convicted of manslaughter. Justice Antonin Scalia mentioned the phrase in oral arguments in 2006 when he talked about judges "silly enough" to allow side matters in trials "that maybe shouldn't be brought in."
We're certainly glad trials are held in courtrooms and not in the media. Constitutional safeguards are designed to protect the rights of individuals and to mete out justice according to law rather than popular opinion. But our system of government works best when citizens pay attention and let their opinions be known.
While we respect the law and the system, judges can make mistakes; some of them are outrageous mistakes.
Read more: The Daily Home — Outrage in the courtroom
Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on choice of Boyd bodes well for improved leadership:
Say goodbye to the status quo in governance at Alabama State University.
That, at least, is what we and ASU's students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans are surely hoping will be the result of Friday's surprise announcement that Gwendolyn Boyd will become the university's next president — the school's first female president and its 14th overall.
Boyd is an exceptionally well qualified leader, with impeccable academic and administrative credentials. The Montgomery native is accomplished and astute, with a commanding presence we believe will prove inspirational to the ASU community, and Montgomery as a whole.
The board of trustees is to be congratulated for their selection. The other finalists — State Sen. Quinton Ross and Brigadier Gen. Sam Nichols — were fine candidates, but they lacked what Boyd brings to the table: Deep experience in higher education and an outsider's perspective.
She's got her work cut out for her. But it is evident she is well aware of this, stating Friday that her first priority as president will be to bring stability to the university.
That's prudent, but it won't be easy.
ASU last week formally responded to questions from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, about allegations of potential fraud and conflicts of interest among board members. These allegations weren't invented out of whole cloth. They arose from a preliminary report from a forensic audit ordered by the governor after the school's previous president, Joseph Silver, said he had uncovered financial wrongdoing at the school.
Boyd needs to ensure the school and its administrators are forthcoming about these allegations. She must put an end to the too-familiar practice of blanket, blustery denials offered without any substantiation. She should be a forceful advocate for ASU, but never an apologist for its failings.
Boyd should also see that a stronger, or more strongly enforced, code of ethics is adopted for all ASU employees, including top leadership and trustees. She should insist the highest quality standards and practices are in place.
Congratulations and welcome to Boyd. ASU trustees made a wise decision. We hope her tenure as president is marked by the restoration and growth of ASU's reputation as a thriving, world-class hub of 21st-century higher education.
The Anniston (Ala.) Star on Obama's optimism:
President Barack Obama predicts 2014 will be a "breakthrough year for America." That may be a tough goal to reach.
In Washington alone, consider the difficulties: Political gridlock is rampant. Midterm elections are bound to ramp up the partisanship. Republican opposition to virtually anything Obama touches is intense and shows no signs of stopping. And some of the nation's top legislative priorities — the Affordable Care Act, stronger guidelines on background checks for gun purchases, federal-level immigration reform, for instance — are either wrapped in controversy or going nowhere.
Friday morning, the president held his annual year-end news conference where he offered frank views about his signature legislation, Obamacare, and the controversy over the scope of the National Security Agency's activities.
On the rollout of Obamacare: "We screwed it up."
On the NSA: "I have confidence that the NSA is not engaged in domestic surveillance or snooping around, (but) we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence."
On his polls, which are sagging after the health-care website debacle: "If you're measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot over the course of my career."
It's understandable that Obama, finishing his fifth year in the White House, would try to convey a message of optimism as the new year approaches. Hope is always good.
But despite the faults of the Obama administration — the Obamacare rollout; his failure to adequately sell the American public on the need for health-care reform; its profound lack of transparency and openness — much of 2014's promise rests in the hands of D.C. lawmakers.
U.S. government is not a one-man show; the Founders saw to that. So Obama enters his sixth year as president needing a combative Congress, particularly the GOP-controlled House, to meet him halfway on issues both thorny and easy to solve.
Recent years give us little of the president's optimism, even though the economy is slowly improving and the financial markets are riding an extended upswing. Despite the Tea Party's diminished influence, congressional Republicans seem hell-bent on governing against the president, not for the people. Until that brick wall is breached, Washington will be what it is.