A Whopping Injustice 

For months now, members of the Nashville Bar Association, along with a remarkably diverse cross section of people who support Nashvillian Paul Ney’s nomination to U.S. attorney for Middle Tennessee, have been waiting for the White House and the Senate to confirm him.

To the public, anyway, there’s been no word whether Ney, the choice of Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, will be approved to serve as the federal government’s top prosecutor here. But there has, in fact, been a judgment—and it’s utterly unfortunate. The White House has all but flushed Ney’s name down the toilet. He will not get the job.

Why?

As it turns out, Ney was a normal young man. He smoked pot a few times as a law school student and even tried cocaine once or twice—all of which he told U.S. Justice Department officials when they interviewed him in Washington in May. Instead of such “youthful indiscretions”(sound familiar?) being viewed as just that, the same kind of behavior that the sitting president may very well have been guilty of is keeping this promising young Republican from doing a job most agree he’s uniquely suited for.

Here in the Scene’s editorial department, we count ourselves as writers, photographers, editors, high-profile characters, moms and dads—overall a reasonably successful bunch. Collectively—and without naming names—we’ve swallowed enough booze to float the Queen Mary, and we have also downed a wide variety of capsules, tablets, and pills. Many of us have smoked enough marijuana to flavor a warehouse full of hams, and snorted enough cocaine to get us through a few marathons. We are not necessarily proud of this—and these are not contemporaneous practices—but it is nevertheless the truth. Such past behaviors have not been obstacles to our winning sundry journalistic awards. In our profession, in fact, the Pulitzer Prize committee does not withhold well-deserved recognition in the face of a little past drug use.

Likewise, the idea that Ney’s experience, talents and wide base of support—even the most liberal members of this city’s legal establishment think he deserves the job—could be deemed irrelevant based merely on limited long-ago experimentation with drugs is nonsensical. What about the current president? The former president? The former vice president? All can plead guilty to part of what Ney has done.

Yet, here in Nashville, Ney is being regarded as an inadequate choice for top prosecutor because of a joint he pulled on nearly two decades ago? Sadly, Ney could have the job right now if he lacked integrity. When the Justice officials asked him about any past drug use, he could well have pondered the definition of “use,” concluded his experimentation didn’t qualify, then lied about it. Sources tell the Scene that Ney is sticking to his guns and declining to withdraw his name, as the White House apparently has suggested. After all, why quit after you’ve been fired?

It’s unlikely that an unyielding, moralistic and hypocritical administration in Washington currently waging a war on terrorism would hear the sounds of righteous indignation emanating from the offices of the Scene, but in case you’re listening, we have a question:

What are you people smoking?

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