In an address to the Montana State Legislature, Republican Congressman and Senate-candidate Denny Rehberg blasted a federal judge who ruled that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species list, saying: “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species list?”
Despite the call for greater civility in politics after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left a federal judge and five others dead, Rehberg continued to employ violent rhetoric to score political points against a judge who was simply doing his job.
In the wake of the Tucson shooting, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan said that all people have a “duty to consider the impact of our words and to approach political discourse with honesty and responsibility,” and the politicians “who denounce violence should also denounce the rhetoric that can incite it.”
Now, the children of the vilified judge are speaking out against the Congressman’s ferocious language targeting their dad in a letter to the Helena Independent Record. The judge’s children ask Rehberg “to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame,” and point out that their father was simply following his role as a judge to “interpret and apply the laws” no matter how unpopular. The judge’s children remind Rehberg and all politicians that such vicious rhetoric has no place in the political and legal debate:
We are writing to express our disappointment and voice our concerns over the comments that Congressman Rehberg recently made at a joint session of the Montana Legislature. Although Congressman Rehberg didn’t identify by name U.S. District Judge Don Molloy — our dad — it was clear to whom he referred.
For the benefit of those not there, here is what was said: When referring to a recent federal court decision about wolves and the Endangered Species Act, Rehberg stated, “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: ‘How can we put some of these judicial activists on the endangered species list.’ I am still working on that!”
We, too, are still trying to figure out exactly how he thought it appropriate or responsible to make these comments, especially in light of recent events in Tucson.
We fully recognize that the wolf issue has become a polarizing, politicized issue. Through the years, we have come to understand that the press and public will often critique court decisions without a full understanding of the law or facts. Many cases, like the one involving wolf delisting, are complicated. Politicians like Congressman Rehberg have every right to comment, and like the rest of the public, they have the right to do so on an uninformed basis. But a line is crossed when language such as that used by Congressman Rehberg is spoken. It is not acceptable or appropriate to make veiled or outright threats of harm toward anyone, including a judge who is performing a constitutional responsibility to interpret and apply the laws that Congress enacts, based on the facts and law presented in the court room, and not on public opinion.
This is a personal issue for us, and not only because of these comments about Judge Molloy. We are proud Montanans. In fact, we are fourth-generation Montanans and our parents raised us to respect other people, even people with whom we may disagree. We grew up in a Montana where threats and jeers were unwelcome on a school playground and unheard of in political discourse.
It is our firm belief that we must hold our elected officials to a standard of conduct that is representative of Montanans and how we wish to be known. The respect and civility that we call upon Congressman Rehberg to demonstrate are qualities that we see every day in our fellow Montanans. Each of us can and should rise above the divisive and shallow rhetoric that is becoming so common in public discourse. Each of us can commit to showing through our own words and actions how we can debate the issues with respect, thoughtfulness and vigor.
It is our hope that the image of Montana and its citizens that we have grown up holding tightly to remains — that we are strong in our willingness to stand up and behave responsibly and respectfully to all. For all Montanans, and on behalf of our family, we ask Congressman Rehberg to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame.
Molly, Brynn, Jennifer and Daniel TC Molloy are the children of U.S. District Judge Don Molloy of Missoula.