Cover letter to the Hon. James S. Gilmore,
Governor of the State of Virginia

Howard University
Department of Political Science
Frederick Douglass Hall
Washington, DC 20059

August 1, 2001

Hon. James S. Gilmore, III
Office of the Governor
State Capitol, 3rd Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Governor Gilmore,

Enclosed is my letter to Dr. Louis F. Rossiter, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, in reply to his action rescinding my appointment to the Virginia Child Support Guideline Review Panel.

To dismiss a duly appointed individual from a position of public service solely on the grounds of opinions published in respected newspapers is a serious breach of governmental ethics. It is all the more troubling when the proscribed opinions concerned governmental ethics in the first place.

I fear the pledge of your administration to be inclusive and diverse is compromised when a diversity of opinion, and one mandated by state law, is not permitted. Even more serious is the appearance this creates of your administration's respect for the opinions of Virginia's citizens and its commitment to the Bill of Rights.

As I have pointed out to both Secretary Rossiter and Attorney General Mark Earley, this patently improper action is the logical consequence of a governmental regime that is already responsible for mass incarcerations without trial, unlawful searches and seizures, the illegal removal of children from their parents, and other serious violations of constitutional and human rights. I urge you to direct Attorney General Earley to initiate a full investigation of the state machinery governing divorce, child custody, and child support in Virginia with a view to uncovering and rectifying serious violations of civil and constitutional rights now being perpetrated under color of law.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Baskerville

cc: Dr. Louis F. Rossiter
Mark Earley, Attorney General
Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times


Cover letter to the Hon. Mark Earley,
Attorney General of the State of Virginia

Howard University
Department of Political Science
Frederick Douglass Hall
Washington, DC 20059

August 1, 2001

Hon. Mark Earley
Office of the Attorney General
900 East Main Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Attorney General Earley,

Enclosed is my letter to Dr. Louis F. Rossiter, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, in reply to his action rescinding my appointment to the Virginia Child Support Guideline Review Panel.

As I have written to Governor Gilmore, to dismiss a duly appointed individual from a position of public service solely on the grounds of opinions published in respected newspapers is a serious breach of governmental ethics. It is all the more troubling when those opinions concerned governmental ethics in the first place. I fear this action creates an adverse appearance of the administration's respect for the opinions of Virginia's citizens and its commitment to the Bill of Rights.

As I have pointed out to Secretary Rossiter, this patently improper action is the logical consequence of a governmental regime that is already responsible for mass incarcerations without trial, unlawful searches and seizures, the illegal removal of children from their parents, and other serious violations of constitutional and human rights. In the past you have eloquently expressed concern about the injustices of the child custody system. I urge you now, as Attorney General, to initiate a full investigation of the state machinery governing divorce, child custody, and child support in Virginia with a view to uncovering and rectifying serious violations of civil and constitutional rights now being perpetrated under color of law.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Baskerville

cc: James S. Gilmore, III, Governor
Dr. Louis F. Rossiter
Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times


Letter to the Louis F. Rossiter,
Secretary of Health and Human Resources
of the State of Virginia

Howard University
Department of Political Science
Frederick Douglass Hall
Washington, DC 20059

August 1, 2001

Louis F. Rossiter, PhD
Secretary of Health and Human Resources
Office of the Governor
PO Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218

Dear Secretary Rossiter,

I must admit to being truly taken aback by your letter of July 23. Your response to questions about government ethics is to dismiss the purveyor of the questions. This is all the more startling when the body from which I am dismissed is a citizens' review panel, whose mandate includes revising existing policy. By dismissing me because of published views you appear to have confirmed my concerns and those of others that something is seriously amiss in the government of the Commonwealth.

Especially troubling is your assumption that opinions unapproved by government officials constitute legitimate grounds for dismissing duly appointed individuals from positions of public service. Having concluded that I am the appropriate representative of Virginia's citizens to serve the Commonwealth in this capacity, you then deny my right to serve by rescinding an appointment solely because of "opinions published in the June 17, 2001, Washington Times." These opinions were expressed in a forum outside official ones in respected newspapers read by thousands of Virginians.

Your action raises profound and disturbing questions about the respect of the current administration for the opinions of its citizens and the Bill of Rights. Will others who serve on this penal now be required to self-censor themselves in fear that expressing their views may lead to their dismissal? Will those who serve on other government advisory panels in Virginia be similarly intimidated? Precisely how closely must a citizen's views conform with existing policy and the views of current policymakers before that citizen is to be excluded from public service? Must the citizens of Virginia guard their opinions and keep them from public view, lest those opinions preclude them from public service for which they are otherwise qualified, recommended, and even selected? What precisely is the purpose of government advisory panels if those who serve on them must gag themselves to offer only advice that is already known to be acceptable to those they are appointed to advise? Must editors and media producers select the views they publish or broadcast with an eye to whether those views meet with your approval and that of other government officials? "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation," wrote Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, "it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

The very purpose of the panel is to review and possibly revise the existing guideline, but you are saying citizens cannot serve on the panel if they disagree with the existing guideline. Something is fundamentally self-defeating when the state declares that a citizen whose views do not uphold the prevailing orthodoxy cannot, by that fact alone, serve on a commission whose very purpose is to review the existing orthodoxy. You have effectively ruled out change before the panel has begun its work. Those who have charged that the review process has become perfunctory and that no serious review of the existing guideline is intended would seem to find in your action a confirmation in their suspicions.

State law specifically requires that the panel represent a variety of interests and perspectives so that the review process is fair for all concerned. That I do represent the perspectives of non-custodial parents in Virginia has been affirmed by an official of your department, who told me that I was recommended for the position by more non-custodial parents than any other candidate.

Yet you say it is "in the best interest of all concerned" to remove the representative chosen by that constituency. The charge would also seem to be confirmed that non-custodial parents, whose representation is already minimal, have been effectively removed from the process.

Even more troubling, you say I cannot serve because of the presence of "representatives of other groups that very likely have different perspectives" than mine. This seems to be an admission that perspectives that are already numerically dominant and arguably over-represented on the panel are to be weighted more heavily than those in the minority. If different perspectives are not to be desired or tolerated, then it would appear that we can dispense with review panels altogether - along other forums for open discussion of controversy, such as public hearings, parliamentary debates, and the like - and simply legislate by fiat. "All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility," wrote John Stuart Mill. "When there are persons to be found who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something by their silence."

Barry Koplen, whose minority report in 1999 served as the basis for my article, charged the Commonwealth with violating civil rights on an enormous scale by jailing citizens without due process of law. He further asserted that these violations resulted from conflicts of interest and other ethical improprieties both within the child support enforcement system and the process for reviewing that system. That minority report was published along with the report of the panel in 1999 - in other words, by the same government that now says such opinions are unacceptable.

My article simply brought Mr. Koplen's experience to a wider audience. It appears that the Commonwealth government would prefer these issues not be publicized or considered by the present panel, even though the previous panel considered them worthy of publication. As a reader asked in a letter to the editor of the Washington Times published last Friday, what precisely are we seeking to hide?

If this is the respect the current administration demonstrates for open government and the First Amendment, Mr. Koplen's allegations would seem to be confirmed. Is this the quality of government Virginians can expect, where ethically dubious practices are not only tolerated but protected at the highest levels of government, even at the expense of our most basic constitutional freedoms?

Those who charge that the child support enforcement system has become a system of unlawful and unconstitutional government would also seem to be confirmed in their views, when officials must resort to violations of the Bill of Rights to protect it. It is very likely that this latest breach of ethics is the predictable consequence of a governmental regime that is already responsible for mass incarcerations without trial, unlawful searches and seizures, the illegal removal of children from their parents, and other violations of constitutional and human rights of the most serious order. I fear that as Frederick Douglass once said of the slave power, so we may say of the child custody and child support machinery: it is advancing, "poisoning, corrupting, and perverting the institutions of the country."

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Baskerville

cc: James S. Gilmore, III, Governor
Mark Earley, Attorney General
Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times