NYT 'Ethicist' Urges Henry Louis Gates to Sue

July 28th, 2009 9:10 AM

The ethically-challenged "ethicist" of the New York Times Magazine, Randy Cohen, who writes The Ethicist column has inserted himself into the Henry Louis Gates situation by urging the Harvard professor to sue in order to "pursue social justice." To see where Mr. Ethicist is coming from, let us start off with his laughable money quote in his current column on the subject of lawsuits:

Gates should enjoy a cool one and then file suit, assuming he has legal grounds to do so. We Americans are often mocked for being overly litigious, but we are not nearly litigious enough. In the right circumstances, filing suit can be a way to pursue social justice, and that makes it thoroughly ethical.

Paging ambulance chaser John Edwards!

Cohen goes on to push his "social justice" shtick as the rationale for a Gates lawsuit:

I am not encouraging frivolous lawsuits or those inspired by TV pitchmen who use the words “slip and fall” as if invoking El Dorado. Rather, I refer to suits filed to oppose systemic injustice, for the benefit of the larger community, often at some personal risk and expense. This is not opportunism; it’s altruism, not self-interest but civic virtue. A lawsuit by Gates could lead to a formal examination of the troubled history of police interactions with African-Americans and hence would meet this standard.

Altruism? By tying up the courts? Cohen and Gates are too good to be true. Of course, the usual suspects are behind this lawsuit for "social justice" idea:

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, an organization that has sued the New York Police Department many times on behalf of individuals and groups, told me that lawsuits can be “an important tool for reform when coupled with advocacy and public education efforts and when the circumstances are conducive to change.”

Win or lose,The Ethicist is already salivating over the possible results of a Gates lawsuit:

Even a losing lawsuit can compel a powerful institution — government agency or corporation — to disclose its policies and practices during legal proceedings. A lawsuit can provide a public forum to examine a significant issue, guided by a dispassionate judge. What could be more virtuous?

The Ethicist makes it sound like Gates would be a great moral hero if only he would sue. Pretty please. File that lawsuit, Skip, to make Randy feel better:

Nor is he ethically obligated to sue. Doing so is supererogatory, above and beyond the call of duty. Only he can decide if he has the stomach for a struggle and the resources — financial, psychological — to proceed.

For any who have any lingering doubts whether The Ethicist is overtly urging Henry Louis Gates to suit, there is this final bit of proof:

These arguments notwithstanding, Gates should sue. Social change proceeds through the combination of many forces — legislation, litigation and public discourse among them. For Gates to contribute to this effort would be laudable. (And given the high — and disheartening — number of African-American men who, since Gates arrest, have described their own similar encounters with the police, the class-action suit Feige calls for might be sadly possible.)

And what about the possibility of police officer James Crowley suing Henry Louis Gates? Out of the question according to The Ethicist since he accuses Crowley of abusing his office:

The president has softened his initial response to this affair, withdrawing his remark at the press conference that “the Cambridge police acted stupidly.” He now suggests that both Gates and Crowley “overreacted.” Quite likely. But if Gates overreacted, he did so only as an individual, an outburst that might be obnoxious but is not criminal. There is no law against Contempt of Cop. If Crowley overreacted, he erred as a professional, perhaps abusing his office in a manner that is particularly fraught, given the history of African-Americans and the police. That’s what should be examined in court.

Finally, Cohen tosses cold beer on the White House kumbaya session that was proposed by President Obama:

Both Crowley and Gates have accepted Obama’s invitation. Courteous conversation is a fine thing; beer is a fine thing. But not even White House brew can resolve this conflict the way a trial can. Gates and Crowley should drink heartily, speak civilly and eventually reconvene in a courtroom.

Hmm... Perhaps your humble correspondent should file a class action  lawsuit on behalf of the Times readers against The Ethicist for falsely passing himself off as ethical. It seems he disingenuously tried to brush off his $585 contribution to MoveOn.Org by claiming that donation to the extreme leftwing organization was on a par with giving to the Boy Scouts. Mind you, Randy, self-interest would not be involved. Such a lawsuit would be filed strictly out of a sense of altruism and civic virtue.

Oh, and do happen to have the phone number of John Edwards?