Editor's notes

By Tim Redmond

tredmond@sfbg.com

One of the most chilling moments in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito came when Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin asked the nominee about innocence and execution.

Imagine, Feingold said, a hypothetical case in which a person has been convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death – but subsequent evidence clearly proves him innocent. Suppose the trial was procedurally perfect, there were no overriding errors or legal issues – just the fact that the jury was wrong and the guy on death row turned out to have done nothing wrong. Would this person have a constitutional right not to be executed?

Alito bobbed and weaved. He talked about process and state and federal jurisdiction. He rambled and ducked, and Feingold asked him again: Forget the process. Does a demonstrably innocent person have a constitutional right to not be killed by the state?

Alito wouldn't answer.

The press largely missed this little exchange, and it represented everything wrong with the Alito hearings. I learned a lot about the guy from listening to the hearings – but almost nothing from reading the San Francisco Chronicle. If I hadn't listened myself, I might have missed this gem, which should have been a front-page headline here in SF: "Alito can't find constitutional right not to be wrongly executed."

Instead, the Chron's Carolyn Lochhead reported Jan. 11 that the Democrats "were unable to land serious blows" on the nominee. As if this were all just a boxing match, with the only losers the fools who bet on the Democratic chumps.

I ought to be used to it by now. But I'm not.

. . .

It's hard to be objective about the school-closure fiasco, since my son goes to one of the schools on the list. We love McKinley – it's a wonderful school, with a great, diverse community, excellent teachers, and a fabulous principal. What goes on there represents everything that's right about SF public schools.

But it's a small school, and the staff has put discretionary money into keeping some of the class sizes below the maximum, so it fits some of the criteria for closure. Which is infuriating.

Still, I've tried hard to stay out of the "just not my school" talk – I realize the school board has some tough decisions to make, and in the end, with declining enrollment, some schools will almost certainly have to close. But as a political reporter – and a parent – I can tell you that the way the school district handled this round of closings was inexcusably bad.

If McKinley gets the ax (and I don't think it will), where will Michael go to school next year? It's way too late to start visiting other elementary schools – the board won't decide until Jan. 19 at the earliest, and the deadline for applying to new schools is Jan. 27. What would happen to our community? Would we have any options (like going where our principal and our friends go)?

And how can I go around telling my friends they really ought to stick with the public schools and apply to McKinley if I don't know that McKinley will still be there in a couple of years?

Parents all over the city are facing all of this and worse, with no time to spare and no sense that we have any say in the outcome.

As we point out in an editorial on page 5, the district has to do better.