The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dove off the deep end in full scuba gear Tuesday by overturning a conviction against a man caught at the U.S. border in 1999 with 124 pounds of explosives - and, oh, the court also set aside his 22-year prison sentence.
Let's state it another way: In the early months of America's war on terrorism, an Algerian man named Ahmed Ressam - later dubbed the "Millennium Bomber" - gave a fake name to customs agents at the U.S.-Canada border, then was caught with nitroglycerin and timing devices hidden under the spare tire of his rental car. He later admitted to being part of al-Qaida, and that he plotted with al-Qaida to set off an explosion at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999.
This is the guy whose sentence the Nonsensical Ninth wants overturned.
The three-judge panel that issued the ruling hung its hat on the only one of 10 convictions that Ressam appealed: carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony. The felony was giving the customs officer a false name at the border.
Whoa, said the panel. There's no proof that the nitro Ressam was carrying aided him in lying to customs officials. The absence of that proof, the panel said, voids the conviction.
But why else would Ressam give a false name? Forgetfulness? Practical joke?
People give false names because they're hiding something, and Ressam was trying to hide his identity as surely as those explosives were hidden in his car's trunk.
This ruling is far from being the only short-circuit out of the Ninth Circuit. Remember when its judges found that the Pledge of Allegiance phrase "under God" violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
Or that time the Ninth Circuit ruled that private cultivation of marijuana for proclaimed "medicinal purposes" was OK?
It almost seems quaint now, doesn't it?
That's because those rulings didn't endanger innocent lives. Those rulings merely allowed the judges to engage in their favorite pastime of academic posturing just long enough for their daffy decisions to advance before the U.S. Supreme Court - and be rightfully struck down.
The Millennium Bomber ruling basically sends the message that, you know what, maybe this guy who wanted to kill innocent civilians doesn't deserve 22 years behind bars. And, oh, America? We don't see anything wrong with Ressam walking around free.
Is that really what the judges think? Are they that blind to such an egregious threat to America's security?
It doesn't matter. That's what they're implying with this thoughtless ruling.
The ruling doesn't require the next presiding federal judge to reduce Ressam's sentence, and the judge absolutely should not. Ressam's lucky he's getting only 22 years instead of the 35 he originally faced. Sharing terrorist information with authorities brought that number down.
As for the purportedly required burden of proof involving Ressam's lie, it's nonexistent in law. Two other federal appeals courts considered the same law and couldn't find the requirement concocted by the Ninth Circuit panel.
Fortunately, that circuit's decisions are the ones most likely to be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. If Ressam's case makes it that far, its fate should be no different.