Eye On Olympia

Who was that shouting "Tyrant!" at the U.S. attorney general? It sure sounds like Justice Sanders...

Someone heckled U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week during Mukasey's speech before The Federalist Society in Washington, D.C. (About 15 minutes after the incident, Mukasey slumped at podium and fainted.)

Who was the person shouting "Tyrant! You ARE a tyrant!" from the audience?

Allegedly Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, famous for his libertarian-leaning dissents.

Lawyer Wendy Long said on Fox News Friday night that it was Sanders. The statement was picked up by conservative writer Michelle Malkin.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto opined that yes, it was likely Sanders. Taranto was in the room at the speech.

We were seated close enough to the heckler to note that he was at Table 50--Sanders's assigned table, according to the dinner program. Although we did not recognize the heckler, we observed that he had white hair and a mustache, as does Sanders...

Here's a new post from today from Malkin, who queried Sanders about the incident and got an equivocal response. He told her "I had personally left the dinner long before he collapsed and first knew of it watching the news from my hotel room the next morning," but didn't answer whether he was the heckler.

In the audio recording from The Federalist Society web page, go to the 17-minute, 28-second mark and you'll hear a voice -- which sounds a lot like Richard Sanders' -- shouting out "Tyrant! You ARE a tyrant!" as Mukasey touts the Bush Administration's achievements combating terrorism. (Note: the video, not surprisingly, is very slow to load. Once it's loaded halfway or so, scroll to the time mark above.)

On the recording, you can hear other members of the audience telling the heckler to knock it off.

"Sit down!" says one voice. "Sit down."

Sanders is arguably the court's most colorful personality, routinely weaving quotes from sources as diverse as Dickens, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Rolling Stones into his rulings. See also this excellent 1998 profile by former Seattle Times writer David Postman.

Sanders told The Olympian's Adam Wilson yesterday that he wasn't present when Mukasey collapsed. But he declined to answer whether he was the heckler.

"As to that, I don't have any comment. But I wasn't there when he collapsed. I heard it on television the next morning, I was very sorry to hear it." Sanders told Wilson. Sanders also left Wilson with the strong impression that Sanders wasn't even at the speech.

Stay tuned. I've got calls in to both Sanders' Olympia office and home office. I'm told that he and state court officials are working on a statement that will explain more.

UPDATE: Sanders minutes ago sent out a five paragraph statement. He said he was particularly irked at Mukasey's noting that Al Qaeda is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, which Sanders said prompted a laugh from the Federalist Society crowd.

Attorney General Mukasey received a standing ovation. I passionately disagree with these views: the government must never set aside the Constitution; domestic and international law forbids torture; and access to the writ of habeas corpus should not be denied.

Sanders wrote.

The program provided no opportunity for questions or response, and I felt compelled to speak out. I stood up, and said, “tyrant,” and then left the meeting. No one else said anything. I believe we must speak our conscience in moments that demand it, even if we are but one voice.

Sanders argues that the expression doesn't mean that he heckled Mukasey. Although the video shows Mukasey pausing in his speech and other audience members can be heard telling Sanders to sit down, Sanders says he didn't disrupt the meeting. Only later did he learn that Mukasey fainted about 15 minutes afterward.

I hope those who know my jurisprudence will agree that to truly love the Constitution is to uphold it, to speak out for it, not just in times of peace and prosperity, but also in times of chaos and crisis.

Sanders wrote.

Read his full memo here.




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