Heeding the Challenge of Two Fighters

(From The News Journal – Our View)

Two of Delaware’s best-known legal warriors were honored this week for their contributions to justice and honest elections in the state. Deservedly so.

Common Cause of Delaware gave Carl Schnee a lifetime achievement award for decades of work on behalf of accountable and responsive government in criminal justice.

The organization also presented former Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey with its Public Service Achievement Award. The justice was recognized for spearheading an investigation and subsequent report on Delaware’s troubled campaign financing system. His report helped trigger more than a dozen bills in the General Assembly related to reform.

It is significant that Common Cause honored these two men for their work on behalf of democracy at the state level. Fittingly, the choices were bipartisan. Mr. Schnee is a lifelong Democrat, while Justice Veasey is a Republican.

Mr. Schnee’s long career in law involved work as a public defender, a defense lawyer and later as a U.S. Attorney for Delaware. Over the years, he served as chairman with the Criminal Justice Council and the Children’s Advocacy Center.

In addition to the Common Cause award, Gov. Markell presented Mr. Schnee with the Order of the First State, the highest civilian honor that the state presents.

Mr. Schnee, true to his fashion, challenged the group. He noted that in researching for a class he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute he learned that more than 82 percent of the American people voted in the 1860 presidential race when Lincoln ran. He said he then noticed that just over 30 percent of eligible Delawareans voted in the Nov. 4 election.

“That’s a disgrace,” he said. And he challenged Common Cause and other civic groups to make it their mission to get more people to vote.

Justice Veasey was honored for what was is now called “The Veasey Report,” a 101-page document that outlined an investigation he led into what he called Delaware’s “play-for-pay” culture. His and other investigations led to convictions involving campaign finance violations.

However, the report went beyond the investigations and recommended wider reforms. It is a cause he still espouses.

For example, Delaware officials are required to report gifts of more than $250. They can take them, he said. All they had to do is report them. Why, the justice asked. Why do we allow elected officials to take gifts of any amount from people other than their families? The justice said the gifts are not given out of a deep and abiding friendship for the elected official. They are given to gain influence. As long as there is no quid pro quo for the gift, it is legal. Justice Veasey said that was wrong and should be stopped.

Delaware would honor both men by taking up both of their challenges.