Partisan Courts and the American Dream of Justice

The fight for independence in the 1770s was in large part motivated by the colonists’ disgust with how the King and Parliament sought to manipulate colonial judges, and in turn, the King and Parliament understood just how important it was to have power over the judges and the judicial system, which is why they instigated the methods for controlling the courts which so riled up the colonists. The very first case for impeachment in America was brought in 1774, instigated by Massachusetts’ House of Representatives against Peter Oliver, the Chief Justice of Massachusetts. John Adams prepared the Articles of Impeachment, which listed corruption, greed, and disloyalty, all indicative of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as the bases for impeachment.

The House of Representatives approved the Articles of Impeachment but the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to recognize either the merits of the claims against Oliver or the legality of the process of impeachment. Taking the Royal party line, he declared that Chief Justice Oliver would not be removed, no matter how the Massachusetts House of Representatives had voted.

John Adams knew that a judge without jurors could do little, and that Americans would never serve under a man like Peter Oliver. Within months, Adams was proved right. When called to serve as jurors in their local courts, most colonists refused to participate in a court system tainted by an impeached chief justice, just as Adams had predicted. As one man testified in Boston, when asked why he refused to serve, “we believe in our consciences, that our acting in concert with a court so constituted… would be betraying the just and sacred rights of our native land… which we need to preserve for our posterity.”

Without jurors, no cases could be heard, and the Royally-administered court system was brought to a standstill. The disruption of the royal administration of the colonies was now on a roll. Taxes would not be paid, tea would be tossed into the sea, British troops on the streets of Boston would be harassed and hassled, and in the end, a war would be fought and won, and the new country of the United States was born.

The independence of the judiciary is the bedrock upon which our American democracy stands. It must not be an illusory independence, nor one which is doubted by the vast majority of Americans. To allow the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be filled in these fraught weeks before what may be the most important election in the history of the United States, in a confirmation process that is understood by all to be a fundamentally political move and not a move for justice or equality or equity or due process, or any of the words or phrases we use to mean decency and goodness and grace, will undermine the faith of all Americans in our judicial system.

At a time when so many of our beliefs have eroded — so many of our certainties in how our American government functions under the United States Constitution have imploded — confirming Amy Coney Barrett at warp speed, with votes made firmly down the political party line, will leave lasting and painful scars for decades to come in terms of public regard and trust in our judicial system.

Under the Trump administration, our nation has suffered terribly. We’ve lost loved ones, lost our faith in government, and lost our way under a constant barrage of barely-hidden malfeasance, maniacal immorality, utter incompetence, and complete disregard for the American constitution. Our country was once admired around the world, and now we are pitied.

Any nominee put forward by Donald Trump will always bear his imprimatur, whether in reality or in perception. That imprimatur will only lead to a further corroding of trust in our judicial system and a loss of faith that our American Constitution protects all Americans from injustice and allows all of us to reach for and achieve our dreams under that constitution.

The two are inextricably linked, justice and self-determination, and our great American leaders, such as Martin Luther King, have always understood their symbiotic relationship. Justice feeds self-determination, and self-determination feeds justice. In the Mountaintop speech which Reverend King delivered on April 3, 1968, he praised the Constitution for giving all Americans the right to unfettered, nonpartisan justice. He proclaimed that the young men and women carrying out sit-ins at their local, segregated lunch counters were “standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

It’s time to go back to those great wells of democracy. It’s time to reaffirm our commitment to the American constitution, to decency and to moral leadership, to an America that works for all Americans across all party, religious, gender, race, and age lines. There should be no confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice until the American people have spoken through their votes. We need to have our faith restored in the political process, and in our politicians. In the name of our American democracy, I hope that our senators don’t vote the party line. I hope that they vote their conscience, with decency and with dignity, and that they stand strong in their own faith in our American democracy. Justice shouldn’t be partisan, and the American Dream of justice for all shouldn’t be just a dream.

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