It’s been a long time since an Idaho criminal court case has riled so many across the state. But the recent federal court rulings requiring Idaho to pay for sex-change surgery of a child sex-abuser felon has brought wide, visceral and almost wholly negative responses.
Facebook posts and blog comments have widely condemned the ruling and even Gov. Brad Little, usually careful in his measured remarks, has vowed to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, a stance which landed him on a Fox News interview which has been widely praised.
Even Idaho’s liberals, led by strident Ds, the Idaho ACLU and criminal defense attorneys – normally groups which side with criminal’ “rights,” -- have laid low on this one, as have the hand-wringing editorialists of the state’s victim-sympathetic newspapers.
The reasons for the evident outrage are plain enough. The defendant, one Adree Edmo, is imprisoned for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy. As a state prisoner, Edmo gets state-paid (taxpayer-paid) medical care, if it is necessary. The transgender surgery is perceived by many as “elective” and thus not qualifying for being done at state expense.
To many, it’s a waste of taxpayer money on a superficial claim by an undeserving felon. What about the real victim’s rights here, the 15-year-old boy?
Idaho’s U.S. District federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that the state had to pay for the surgery; otherwise Edmo’ “rights” would be violated and he/she would be subjected to unconstitutional mental anguish and pain. Last month, an appeals federal court agreed with Winmill’s logic and affirmed the order. Average citizens would consider these to be “crock’ ruling as in “crock of xxxx.”
Taxpayers forced to pay for “gender aligning” surgery of a felon convicted of child sex abuse? As Charles Dickens puts it in Oliver Twist, “the law is an ass.”
Little’s decision to appeal the ruling makes obvious political sense, even though it’s another state expense, now at over $300,000 and ticking. The logic of taxpayers being “forced to pay” for the surgery is particularly galling, so Little is safe politically here. Even Ds who routinely try to deep-six what they think are frivolous state expenditures won’t fly in the face of such strong public opinion.
The case will also get people thinking, once again, about the virtual impossibility of reprimanding, much less removing, a federal judge from office. The U.S. Constitution (Article III) gives federal judges virtual lifetime appointment as long as they maintain “good behavior,” which doesn’t mean rulings with which people disagree.
An independent and safe-from-whimsical removal federal judiciary was a key discussion among the Founding Fathers on the balance of federal power, As Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78, the “good behavior” language was needed to give real protection for an independent judiciary. That concept has stood the test of time, although in some states, including Idaho, state judges routinely stand for retention and election.
The broader issue though is that rulings like this can’t help but diminish how citizens see the law. Ordering taxpayers to fund Edmo’s surgery is thus a hollow victory, as it flies in the common-sense faith in the law of average citizens.
Judges should keep that principle in mind. The Constitution gives them effective protection, but it does not make them kings or gods over us all.