when pigs fly.jpg
The 9th Circuit ruling on Ressam was a "pigs can fly" moment, according to one columnist.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin had already labeled Seattle-based federal

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Ninth Circuit Throws Judge John Coughenour to Conservative Lions With Ahmed Ressam Ruling

when pigs fly.jpg
The 9th Circuit ruling on Ressam was a "pigs can fly" moment, according to one columnist.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin had already labeled Seattle-based federal Judge John Coughenour "the terrorists' little helper" as well as "an embarrassment to conservatives and an impediment to winning the war on terror." That was in 2005, after the famously outspoken and opinionated judge sentenced would-be bomber Ahmed Ressam to 22 years in prison -- far less than called for by sentencing guidelines.

Yesterday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals furthered Coughenour's standing as a conservative whipping boy with its own stinging rebuke of the sexagenarian judge (see pdf of ruling). Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcón, writing for a panel of three convened in Seattle, overturned the sentence of the Algerian national who was caught in Port Angeles with explosives in his trunk and a plan to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millenium. In doing so, Alarcón called Coughenour's decision "unreasonable" and said that the judge had "abused" his discretion by overlooking factors crucial to public safety.

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Judge Coughenour, conservative whipping boy.
This is the seconnd time the 9th Circuit has thrown Coughenour's sentence back to the District Court for reconsideration. In 2008, Coughenour again sentenced Ressam to 22 years -- even though, Alarcón noted, Ressam recanted his prior cooperation with the government, one of the chief reasons Coughenour gave for a sentence that fell way below sentencing guidelines.

This time the 9th Circuit is taking no chances. Departing from normal practice, it is ordering that another District Court judge resentence Ressam, calling Coughenour's views on the case "too entrenched."

Coughenour -- a Harley-Davidson riding, Dostoevsky-reading maverick who has spoken out previously against long mandatory sentences (see Times and P-I profiles) -- did indeed express strong feelings during his nearly decade-long handling of the case. Not only did he form a highly debatable image of Ressam, calling him "a quiet, solitary and devout man whose true character is manifest in his decision to cooperate," but he used the case to implicitly lambast the Bush administration for its war on terror tactics. "We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel," the judge said as he sentenced Ressam.

Interestingly, his liberal stance now comes under attack from a court also used as a whipping boy for conservatives. But as this ruling and a previous SW cover story makes clear, the 9th Circuit is not as uniformly uber-liberal as many people think, even if Carter holdouts like Judge Betty Fletcher still hold sway. In fact, Alarcón also was appointed by President Carter.

Will the ruling change conservatives' view of the 9th Circuit? Judging by Malkin's comments yesterday, not exactly, but the former Seattle Times columnist does recognize that the order conflicts with the general image of the court. She writes: "Hell has frozen over. Pigs are sprouting wings. The left-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has removed a moonbat judge from the botched [Ressam] case."

 
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