If you are a liberal lawyer from San Francisco, stop reading now. You will likely be annoyed, or offended. If you are among the “rest of us,” read on, for an amusing insight into the Left’s conception of intellectual discourse.
First, a bit of background: I am a lawyer, now living in Texas, who practiced for many years in California. As an opinionated conservative, I often write on legal topics. For more than 20 years, I have been a periodic contributor of op-ed pieces to (among other publications) the Daily Journal, a widely-read legal newspaper in California with editions in Los Angeles and San Francisco that, to its credit, tries to maintain editorial balance in an increasingly blue state.
A recent topic of interest to me is the case of Jeffrey Norsworthy, a prisoner in California state prison serving a life sentence for murder, whom a federal judge in San Francisco ruled was entitled to a sex-change operation (costing up to $100,000), at taxpayer expense, due to the Eighth Amendment’s bar on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Norsworthy, you see, is a transgender suffering from what his doctors called “gender dysphoria.” Without any supporting appellate precedent, Judge Jon Tigar—an Obama appointee—ruled that a vaginoplasty is a constitutionally-required medical procedure. The state of California is appealing the decision to the Ninth Circuit.
This is exactly the type of case that calls out for critical commentary. It touches on a number of sensitive policy issues, including judicial activism, the proper interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, and the rights of transgender prisoners. Accordingly, I penned essays on the Norsworthy case for City Journal California and The American Spectator. The public response (judging from readers’ comments on my articles and to online news reports on the Norsworthy case) was overwhelmingly critical of Tigar’s decision. It is fair to summarize the general tone of readers’ comments as disbelief bordering on ridicule.
How Dare You Criticize Liberal Views
So when the editor of the Daily Journal invited me to submit an op-ed on the case, I readily agreed. Even though the digital edition of the newspaper is pay-walled, the print edition has a large circulation and is read by many lawyers and judges in California. My piece appeared on May 27, 2015. On June 4, 2015, the Daily Journal ran a lengthy, strident letter from a prominent San Francisco civil rights lawyer, Sanford Jay Rosen, taking issue with my commentary. Did I get the facts wrong? Did I misstate the holding of the case? No, even worse: I dared to disagree with Tigar and did not genuflect at the altar of transgender rights.
Even though Tigar’s decision was unprecedented and had already been “stayed” (or held in abeyance) by the notoriously-liberal Ninth Circuit pending appeal (a strong sign of its dubiousness), Rosen averred that my criticism of it was a “rant,” “phobic,” “offensive,” “ignorant,” “gratuitous,” and “unfounded.”
Rosen seemed particularly perturbed by two statements in my op-ed. I dared to equate Norsworthy with the “South Park” character Mr. Garrison, who in a 2005 episode (entitled “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina”) underwent—and ultimately regretted—a vaginoplasty. Liberals once promoted social change through satire and subversive humor. Consider Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, George Carlin, and even the Smothers Brothers. Now, when the tables are turned, they squeal with outrage. Heaven forbid that anyone make fun of them, or (as I did) suggest that surgical removal of male genitals is “gruesome”!
But Rosen’s most vehement reaction was to my objection that Tigar referred to Norsworthy throughout his decision as a woman, using feminine pronouns and even referring to him as Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. His legal name is Jeffrey Norsworthy; prison officials refer to him as Jeffrey Norsworthy. Norsworthy has been taking female hormones and is allowed to wear a ponytail, but he is incarcerated in a men’s prison and is still anatomically a man. (The sex change operation Norsworthy desires is, after all, the subject of the lawsuit.)
For the supposedly neutral judge to refer to a male litigant as a woman, when the issue in dispute is the surgical alteration of his genitals, evidences a gross lack of impartiality. Rosen scorns the attitude—judging from the Bruce Jenner commentary, widely held among Americans not living in San Francisco—that men “identifying as female” should nevertheless be regarded by others as men. Rosen became unhinged by my insistence on referring to Norsworthy as a man.
Discourse Is Disrespectful, Young Man
Rosen, who is a name partner in a boutique Bay Area law firm and formerly served in the leadership of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union, saved his fiercest rhetorical blow for the final paragraph. He closed his letter with these words: “Pulliam’s rant is offensive enough. But by repeating his hurtful and disrespectful comments, the Daily Journal does a disservice to all prisoners and all transgender individuals.”
Really? An op-ed in a legal newspaper is “hurtful”? And “disrespectful”? To whom? A convicted murderer who has been incarcerated for the past 28 years? A life-tenured federal judge? And how is a spirited dialogue on matters of public policy a “disservice” to “all prisoners”? I suspect that most prisoners, like most Americans, would find Tigar’s ruling nonsensical and absurd.
Rosen’s pompous response—devoid of any substantive rebuttal—amounts to a fit of pique. The attitude of many California liberals (not just San Francisco lawyers) is, “We’re in charge now; no one is allowed to disagree.” Rosen’s ultimate complaint is that the Daily Journal published a criticism of one of his pet causes. So much for the “marketplace of ideas” long viewed as a hallmark of liberal societies.