BEST SHOW OF SPINE (1998)
History has a few choice examples of what happens when people of otherwise good sense turn off their bullshit detectors. History also shows how hard it is to go against the current: When everyone around you believes that the emperor is fully clothed, who are you to state the obvious? Which is to say that people like Judge Jack Nordby are as precious and as rare as an eagle in a chicken coop. It was Nordby, you may remember, who last year ruled that the public which helped pay for the Mall of America had a right to protest on mall property. But that opinion--since overruled by the state Court of Appeals--is not what, in our opinion, earns Nordby a place in the history books. What got us to sit up and take notice was his handling of a run-of-the-mill robbery case some 18 months ago. In that case, as in most, the defendant was being held until he could post a hefty bond ($10,000 in this instance). The prosecution, as it usually does, argued that the amount should be raised (to $80,000), essentially to make sure the man would stay in jail. Nordby rejected the request, and in the process produced an eloquent 30-page order that should be required reading for law students, attorneys, judges, politicians, and most of the rest of us. "Bail is not a tool of law enforcement, though it is often used that way," he wrote in a tone whose very matter-of-factness gives us goosebumps. "It is not a form of punishment, though it often has that effect; it is not a privilege of the wealthy or the well-behaved or the white, though it often seems to be. Bail is a right, an absolute Constitutional right, and any discussion of it which begins from any other premise is misguided or treacherous." Fightin' words, them--so much so that court administrators have removed Nordby from all bail-setting assignments. But the emperor is still naked, and someone--maybe 100 years from now--will see that.