In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years.
Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. The State of Texas conceded that Haley’s criminal record made him ineligible for habitual offender treatment.
Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years on the grounds that he had waived the argument he now was making, having failed to raise the objection at trial or on direct appeal from his conviction and sentence. Using one of those lovely obscurities of the law, the State argued that Haley’s claim was “procedurally defaulted” which is another way of sticking your tongue out and screaming “Hah-hah, too late!”
“Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. The federal district court rejected the State’s claim. It ruled that Haley’s claim fell within what is known as the “actual innocence” exception to the bar against raising defaulted claims.
Accordingly, the court ordered Texas to re-sentence Haley and he was released after six years, much to Cruz’s chagrin.
The case reveals something interesting about Cruz’s character. Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.
Traditionally, candidates who have attracted strong evangelical support have in part emphasized the need to lend a helping hand to the economically stressed and the least fortunate among us. Such candidates include George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
But Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring.
Cruz lays down an atmosphere of apocalyptic fear. America is heading off “the cliff to oblivion.” After one Democratic debate he said, “We’re seeing our freedoms taken away every day, and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously.”
As the Republican strategist Curt Anderson observed in Politico, there’s no variation in Cruz’s rhetorical tone. As is the wont of inauthentic speakers, everything is described as a maximum existential threat.
Cruz manufactures an atmosphere of menace in which there is no room for compassion, for moderation, for anything but dismantling and counterattack. And that is what he offers. Cruz’s programmatic agenda, to the extent that it exists in his speeches, is to destroy things: destroy the I.R.S., crush the “jackals” of the E.P.A., end funding for Planned Parenthood, reverse Obama’s executive orders, make the desert glow in Syria, destroy the Iran nuclear accord.
Some of these positions I agree with, but the lack of any positive emphasis, any hint of reform conservatism, any aid for the working class, or even any humane gesture toward cooperation is striking.
Ted Cruz didn’t come up with this hard, combative and gladiatorial campaign approach in isolation. He’s always demonstrated a tendency to bend his position — whether immigration or trade — to what suits him politically. This approach works because in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges court decision on same-sex marriage, many evangelicals feel they are being turned into pariahs in their own nation.
Cruz’s last case as solicitor general to reach the Supreme Court has emerged as a campaign issue, as his defeat abruptly transformed from a loss to an embarrassment. Soon after the court ruled in Kennedy v. Louisiana in 2008 that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, a blogger pointed out that Congress allowed such a punishment for the same crime under military court-martial.
None of the briefs filed in the case mentioned it and neither did Cruz, who had argued in support of Louisiana on behalf of 10 states.
“Ted Cruz’s incompetent research led to the gutting of one of the toughest versions of Jessica’s Law in the nation,” Mark Miner, an adviser for Dewhurst, said last month.
Would hearing these stories undercut Cruz’s support among Republican primary voters? I really don’t know. I do know that a person who would fight such a case all the way to the Supreme Court is lacking something very basic, something important not only for Christians, but for any of us, and certainly for anyone seeking to become the most powerful individual in the world.
That thing is judgment.
Source: The New York Times. et al