Jeb Bush, degrees of insanity, and the rule of law

A governor shouldn’t need people with guns to make him obey court orders.

When William Bennett suggested that Jeb Bush defy a court order and seize the person of Terri Schiavo, I was willing to bet that Jeb wasn’t as crazy as Bennett. I would have lost that bet.

It turns out that Bush ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to snatch Schiavo and take her to a hospital, but backed off when the local police indictated they would enforce the order of the court. That stuns me as much as it does Kevin Drum.

But I don’t think Kevin is right to describe Jeb as “batsh*t insane.” Being willing to defy a court order is insane, all right — or at least terminally reckless — but if Jeb had been truly batsh*t, he would have been willing to force a physical confrontation.

Quibbling aside, though, Jeb’s planned actions were an outrage. In the end, the law was upheld only because one set of people with guns (the local police) were willing to stand up to another set of people with guns (FDLE). In a republic under law, that’s not supposed to happen.

Update I am delighted, though unsurprised, to register Steve Bainbridge’s concurrence. Prof. Bainbridge thinks Gov. Bush went “nearly” over the edge; I would say that the impeachable offense was complete when the Governor ordered law enforcement agents to defy a court order, and that his subsequent backdown from a physical confrontation with local law enforcement is relevant to the question of his batsh*t insanity (vel non) but not to the question of whether he violated his oath of office. But we agree on the main point: governors don’t get to overrule courts.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: