Obviously, political commercials do not generally offer great intellectual or moral insights. But political advertising hit a new low this week when Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, Kerry Healey, ran a commercial (which still prominently appears on her website) that questions whether her opponent, Deval Patrick, is fit to be governor simply because he represented someone who was on death row. The catch line from the ad: "While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as our governor?" Watch the ad here.
Healey's claim that lawyers are in some way morally accountable for the clients they represent is oft-discussed in legal ethics. Although a few scholars contend that lawyers have some moral responsibility for their client selection decisions, it is hard to leap from that position to the view that the representation of a death row inmate should disqualify someone from serving as governor. According to Healey's logic, she would have to oppose the candidacy of a lawyer who previously represented tobacco companies. That lawyer, after all, represented a client whose product was responsible for a lot more deaths than anyone on death row. How about the lawyers who represented Enron founder Ken Lay? Imagine this ad: "Although lawyers have a right to defend corporate executives who engage in massive fraud that leads to the loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, do you really want one as our governor?" Please. If that commercial would be absurd, I don't see how Healey's ad is any more reasonable.