SOUTH CHARLESTON – West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher spoke March 24 at the monthly meeting of the Kanawha County Federation of Democratic Women at the South Charleston Public Library. His speech was titled "Our 'Real Democrats.'"
Here are his prepared remarks:
Good evening. It's my privilege to be here in South Charleston in the company of what I often refer to as "Real Democrats." Real Democrats are folks like you who choose to be active in our party. Folks like you who make our political system work. And folks like you who play a particularly important role in determining who our Democrat party nominates in the spring to oppose Republicans in the fall.
This should be a great year for Democrats. We should be happy. Because we have an opportunity to take back the leadership of our nation – a chance to change the disastrous course, both national and international, set by the Bush Administration that has fiscally and morally bankrupted the United States of America at home and on the world stage.
The opportunities are out there for our taking. I think it is truly an exciting, historical year in our Democrat Party. For the first time ever we have had both a woman and person of color that have a real chance to become President. And, perhaps as a consequence of this, we have seen record numbers of Democrats participating in the electoral process – including large numbers of young people.
Right now it is hard to say who will be our standard bearer this fall. But, whomever it will be, we need to take care to not become overexcited about "projected" or "poll driven" probably successes for this fall. Nor should we become placated by the promise of John McCain for a "clean campaign." Rather, we must remember that Karl Rove is still alive. Karl Rove, and others of like kind, are still out there lurking around in slimy political waters somewhere – ready to provide the Republican Party with their "blueprint for victory." Nor should we be so naive as to not expect the traditional Republican rhetoric of "God, guns, and gays," or as Al Franken called it "fears, smears and queers," this fall.
What we had better expect is both a "silent" word of mouth slanderous attack, and a vigorous media partisan blitz leveled on our Democrat candidates. For these reasons, your role as party regulars will be even more important this year – meaning that we all must work harder than ever before.
And if we all work hard, I am convinced that we can take back the White House, and strengthen the Senate and House of Representatives. And, for certain, we should recapture the Congressional seat we temporarily lost from right here where we are sitting. We have a duty to retake that office.
Sadly, we currently live in a time of apprehension – and for some, even fear. War, recession, overpriced and under-provided health care, three and a half dollars for a gallon of gasoline, and a national debt that our great-grandchildren will be making payments on. We have become witness to hardships and hostilities – domestic and foreign – that few of us could have even dreamed of when Bill Clinton was in the White House.
So we now look to new political leadership to see us through these times – leadership that will chart a different course, so that those who suffer will no longer suffer, so that our nation can again prosper, and so that our nation can again be respected in the international community.
Now I realize that it is important to support our national agenda in our war against international terrorism – for it is real, but we must not continue to misdirect that war, by wasting resources – both financial and unnecessary human sacrifices – and continue to ignore the real needs of our people.
So, once again it is time for Democrats to step up to bat, not boycott the ballgame. Historically, it has been our Democrat party that has empowered people, not enslaved them. And historically, it has been our Democrat leadership that has led our nation through times of adversity into a better life for more of our people. Democrat leadership sees that not only the wealthy prosper, but that the not-so-wealthy also share in the bounty of our great nation.
We are Democrats.
We Democrats are the party of Jefferson, whose way with the pen reduced to writing principles which have sustained our nation for over two centuries. We are the party of Jackson, who made it clear that government is not to be a tool solely of the rich and powerful.
We are the party of Roosevelt, who saw hunger and suffering, and with compassion permitted government to respond to human misery with dignity. And, we are the party of Truman, whose courage brought an end to an era of global suffering.
We are the party of John Kennedy, who gave us inspiration, and a vision of what we might be. And yes, encouraged by his moral leadership, Jimmy Carter taught us that compassion and forgiveness are appropriate concerns for government.
We are also the party of Bill Clinton, who survived a presidency under attack … not really attacked for the purported reasons, but more likely because Bill and Hillary Clinton had the courage to butt heads with the naysayers who would take from our elders, had the courage to suggest that education and medical care is not reserved solely for the wealthy, insisted that Social Security remain solvent – so that you and I can share in that right, and resisted cutting the heart from programs which support families and children.
Yes, we are Democrats. And our most important mission as Democrats is to continue our strong historical commitment to people – children, families, workers and seniors – supported by values embodied with equality and compassion. These are the values that are at the roots of what is good in West Virginia, and our American democracy.
Let me switch gears and share with you a few thoughts about our justice system – about your justice system. I want to speak of the Court for a special reason – something that I will mention at the close of my remarks.
Despite all those expensive advertisements that the Chamber of Commerce, the Coal Association and Walker Caterpillar fill our airwaves with daily, let me tell you that your courts are profoundly democratic institutions. We operate on a decentralized, human scale. Our courts are open to all comers. We are not courts for only the wealthy and the powerful – as some believe we should be. Rather, both the wealthy and the poor are granted equal access. Remedies are flexible and innovative; still, they are directed by experience of the past.
Courts rely upon the community's conscience, the common sense of ordinary citizens – like you, and the wisdom of an independent judiciary. Our court system promotes compromise – and sometimes even forgiveness and reconciliation.
I want to especially praise the jury system, which occasionally comes under attack in high-profile cases. It is a system in which some of you have no doubt participated. For whatever defects it may have, the jury that our ancestors fought so hard to attain is a remarkable institution. With it we have decided to give the ultimate say-so in our justice system to a diverse group of ordinary citizens – people just like you. We have more faith in the common sense of ordinary citizens than we do in the best-trained professionals.
And I can tell you that after over 20 years of watching juries work in my own courtroom and an additional dozen years reviewing jury results, I share this faith more than ever. Frankly, I have come to believe that justice is too important to be left to lawyers and judges alone. Justice must remain in the day-to-day hands of ordinary people.
Our jury system is an extraordinary idea. It is deeply rooted in our past – an idea with a history of which we can be proud. It is an idea that – if we stick with it – can give us optimism and confidence for the future.
I have been privileged to be a part of our state judiciary for nearly a third of a century – 20 as a trial judge and nearly 12 years as a justice on our State's highest court. It has been an honor for me to have served on your Court, but as you know I am not a candidate for re-election this year. Would liked to have been – but age, health and promises to my family have moved me to the sidelines.
But, as I just told you earlier, I know a little about our justice system and our highest Court, so I want to close this evening with a comment about our Court.
Presently, just as I am not in good health, nor is your Court. "Big money" and special interests have directed a campaign against our courts by portraying West Virginia as a "judicial hellhole." These are false claims that facts do not support, and false claims that have been refuted by academic researchers at West Virginia University. These claims are simply not true, but truth and accuracy mean nothing to people who want to skew the justice system in their favor.
The simple fact is that the pernicious effects of a single wealthy coal company executive's bestowal of his personal wealth, his influence with his associates, his political tactics, and a "close friendship" have created a cancer on our Court. I have spoken out against this problem – hoping that I will say or do something that might help set our Court on a different path.
You also can help cure this cancer by doing all within your means to resist this invasion of influence on the Court by helping our Democrat party nominate real Democrats in May – not "Republicrats," people who are Democrat in registration only.
A final comment, then I will sit down. I will still be up at the Capitol at your State Supreme Court for nine more months. I encourage you to remember that it is your Court – the people's Court. I invite you to come and visit your Court anytime. It is a beautiful edifice. You come, and I will give you a personal tour of the Court – it would be my pleasure.
Thank you for your invitation to be with you this evening.