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The Supreme Court and Sholom Rubashkin


Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, 2010.

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, 2010.
Photo Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

We know we speak for many in our community when we express sadness at the news that the United States Supreme Court on Monday decided not to review the 27-year sentence meted out to former Agriprocessors chief executive Sholom Rubashkin.

At bottom we believe that nothing in the public record concerning Mr. Rubashkin’s crimes can justify a man in his early fifties being sent away to federal prison for more than a quarter of a century.

While we certainly believe that those convicted of crimes should pay a penalty, we believe that from the run up to his trial through this apparently final phase of the judicial process, his case fairly reeked of a sense of injustice: his prosecution was accompanied by an extraordinary level of negative publicity rarely seen in modern judicial proceedings; the list of charges lodged against him, though facially legitimate, was uncommonly inflated in number and degree and, in criminal law parlance, “piled on”; the presiding judge, by any measure, at least raised serious questions of impropriety with her highly unusual ongoing contact with the prosecution team; and the sentence of 27 years stood out among those imposed on others convicted of similar crimes.

In permitting such obvious issues to go unaddressed, the appellate courts failed not only Mr. Rubashkin but also others who may at one time or another find themselves enmeshed in the vagaries of our federal judicial system that do not always account for a possibly compromised trial judge and where formal review procedures are sometimes allowed to trump basic humanity.

We share the comments his lawyer, Nathan Lewin, one of the foremost criminal defense and appellate attorneys of our time, gave to The Jewish Press:

The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the Rubashkin case – which is the greatest injustice that I have seen in more than 50 years of law practice – was very distressing. But the legal battle is not over. There are, in American legal history, a few famous cases “that will not die.” The Rubashkin case is in that league. The Torah teaches that tzedek does not come easily; it must be pursued. Even at this juncture, there are legal avenues for overturning a fundamentally unfair trial.

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