Skip to main content

Politics shouldn't force federal case vs. Zimmerman

By Andrew C. McCarthy, Special to CNN
updated 4:00 PM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/27/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial/index.html'>View photos of key moments from the trial.</a> Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of key moments from the trial.
HIDE CAPTION
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Photos: Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andrew McCarthy: Justice Department should handle cases based strictly on facts and law
  • McCarthy: Attorney General Eric Holder should not have politicized the Zimmerman case
  • He says Zimmerman case is not a federal case because civil rights was not an issue
  • McCarthy: If justice had been served, Zimmerman case would never have been a criminal case

Editor's note: Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is author of "Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy," "Willful Blindness" and "The Grand Jihad." He is a senior fellow at National Review Institute and a contributing editor at National Review.

(CNN) -- We have a Department of Justice, not a Department of Social Justice. That is an essential distinction. It is brought into sharp relief by politicized demands that George Zimmerman, having just been acquitted of murder by the state of Florida, be subjected to a second prosecution -- a federal civil rights indictment -- over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The Justice Department has earned the trust of the United States courts precisely because it resists the politicization of law enforcement. Its tradition is to ensure the equal protection of law for every American, to evaluate cases strictly on the basis of facts and law, and to recognize its obligations not only to the community but also to criminal suspects.

Yet, though Attorney General Eric Holder never tires of reminding us about the due process owed even to foreign terrorists who've confessed to mass murder, the principle does not seem to apply to Zimmerman, an American now acquitted of murder.

Even if the Justice Department never files criminal charges against Zimmerman -- which is likely given the implausibility of obtaining a conviction -- it is extremely inappropriate for law enforcement officials, particularly the U.S. attorney general, to engage in a running extrajudicial commentary that taints the jury pool and ratchets up the investigative anxiety for a citizen who is presumed innocent and has been acquitted. Law enforcement officials speak in court -- with public charges, if prosecutors have the evidence to back them up.

Andrew C. McCarthy
Andrew C. McCarthy

The justice system is not a morality play. It is not designed to right every wrong, nor has it the capacity to remediate tragedy, such as the indescribable pain the Martin family endures after the loss of their 17-year-old son. In the face of such tragedy, the human instinct to demand some kind of "justice" -- social, poetic or cosmic -- is something we all feel. But that is not the justice our legal system exists to dispense.

Federal courts prosaically apply established law to provable facts, and they rely heavily on the Justice Department to perform that duty faithfully. When a popular political narrative -- such as the left's portrayal of racism as the root cause of many American ills -- crashes into uncongenial facts, the justice system is the place where the narrative must yield, and the Justice Department is supposed to ensure that it does.

Sadly, just the opposite has happened in the Zimmerman case. It has been bereft from the start both of proof that Zimmerman had the requisite criminal intent to sustain a murder charge and of evidence to refute his well-corroborated claim of self-defense. That is why veteran police investigators initially declined to file charges.

Corey: Juror selection due to seating
After the verdict

Yet Holder and his subordinates joined in the effort to induce Florida to file charges, unabashedly making common cause with the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose metier is racially divisive demagoguery.

Attending an anti-Zimmerman rally with Sharpton, Holder saber-rattled about filing a civil rights case. As the attorney general well knew, his inappropriate chatter would be construed as a suggestion that Florida had abdicated its responsibilities by declining to prosecute a purportedly racist murderer. Simultaneously, Justice's Community Relations Service worked closely with anti-Zimmerman activists to pressure Florida Gov. Rick Scott into reversing the police determination that there was no case. Scott finally caved, appointing the compliant special prosecutor Angela Corey, who dutifully lodged a groundless second-degree murder charge.

Standard, prudent Justice Department practice has always discouraged commentary on criminal investigations outside the public record. That is for the politicians. Law enforcement is not supposed to speak until the government is ready to file public charges and back them up in court.

To the contrary, Holder has engaged in an extrajudicial publicity campaign, and now finds himself in the hot seat: It's been over a year since he promised to file charges if warranted by the facts, and the facts have long been known -- indeed, they've been tried in court.

Obviously, it is easier to promise to keep investigating -- and to keep alive a race narrative dear to President Obama's political base -- than to acknowledge that there is no federal case against Zimmerman. The insurmountable proof problems Florida prosecutors faced do not even begin to describe the challenges that would confront a federal case.

A civil rights case would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman shot Martin out of racial animus. There is no evidence that Zimmerman has ever been a racist -- jurors in the Florida case say race was not relevant to the case, and the FBI, after investigating extensively for months, has been unable to find proof of a racial motivation.

Furthermore, a federal prosecution would require proof that Zimmerman was trying to prevent Martin's enjoyment of some statutorily specified civil right -- like attending school, applying for a job, staying in a hotel, going to a restaurant, or participating in a federal program. The Zimmerman-Martin altercation was purely local with no federal implications.

Finally, in light of the Justice Department's heavy-handed role in pressuring Florida to bring a case that police originally decided not to charge, there may be a serious question whether the "dual sovereignty" exception to double jeopardy -- allowing a federal prosecution despite a state acquittal -- applies.

This is not a federal case. If real justice had been served, it would never have been a criminal case at all.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew C. McCarthy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT