Monday, June 27, 2011

What Justice Comes From Silence

Last week, we were forced by circumstance to engage the help of a lawyer in righting a wrong -- my son being unable to join his peers in their 8th Grade graduation ceremony, even though he had finally passed. It had been a rough year, and it looked like he might be held back, but through the good graces of some of his teachers, he was able to make up the necessary work to obtain the grades necessary to go to high school. Even so, the administration believed it would not be in his his best interests to allow him in the ceremony, saying it would "set a bad example." We thought just the opposite -- he had shown that their faith in him was not misplaced, and that when he put his nose to the grindstone, he could do the work.

After the school administration and the school district superintendent not only minimized out outrage over the snub, but were condescending about it, we hired legal counsel. Our lawyer, acting swiftly, as there was only hours until the ceremony at this point, was quickly able to determine that the district had violated its own rules regarding the situation, and was in breach. Fear of a potential lawsuit forced their hand, and we won. We got to see him graduate and mark a milestone in his life we both wanted to see.

The legal code of our nation, and the system of justice provided for therein, was a carefully crafted work, intended to provide the average citizen with legal protections from unreasonable government mandates and actions, to ensure that no person was made guilty before they could receive a fair hearing, and to allow even the most heinous criminal the privilege of a day in court. The system of jurisprudence that we have, flawed though it may be in some areas, still affords the vast majority of Americans the protection of their inalienable rights and the right to be heard where they stand accused.

Whereas the Founding Fathers may have thought they were establishing justice for all in their time, the result of their deliberation and debate on universal law and justice could not anticipate the many and variate challenges it would face even one hundred years down the road, not to mention how the system is influenced in an age where news travels the globe in minutes, and trials are sensationalized for their entertainment value. Add to that layers of corruption at all levels, and one wonders if there can be said to be true justice anymore.

Nowhere is the social breakdown more prevalent and pronounced than at the level of the highest court in the land: the Supreme Court of the United States. Here, the final stop on the road of law, the last arbiter of what is and is not applicable under the Constitution, we see the creeping and festering infection of politics and greed and corporate malfeasance. A law unto itself, the Supreme Court holds that it is not directly bound by the same covenant with the people as any other court under it. It operates in the rarefied air of a triumvirate government, isolating itself from the legislative and executive branches, all the while absorbing the worst practices of those bodies. The court is not spoken of in laudable terms for its Solomonic wisdom, but cast in terms of its political alignment and personality. Perhaps in no other time have Justices been better known, but it is also true that their existence is obscured by a tincture of partisanship and perfidy by some members of the circle.

It is not enough to blame a process created in the Eighteenth Century for the ills of the Twenty-First Century, for in that time, the American citizen has been charged with the regulation of its government, and has concentrated on the comings and goings of the President and Congress, to the exclusion of any thought of the Supreme Court unless a position becomes available on that vaunted bench. And then, quite unwittingly, we are subject to a clattering spectacle of divisiveness and discord the likes of which is not seen even daily in the halls of the Senate, as the confirmation of a new Justice is turned into a referendum on the failings of the Constitution and some attempt to divine if the nominee will sway too heavily in one direction or another. It is a time of veiled shots from one party at the other; the nominee is merely there as spectator and talking head. The potential Justice is forced to be bland, to never vary from a worn-and-rutted road down the center of propriety.

All this has come about in the age of television and with the birth of the Information Age. Now, a soon-to-be-or-not Justice can have their life, their record, and their every word dissected, analyzed, and passed to judgment by the masses. To run such a gauntlet will, of needs, take either the strongest of our corps of judicial appointees, or such milquetoasts as can be properly prepared for the onslaught in advance. It will most certainly lead to the bench being handed to those of questionable judicial acumen and moral value.

Perhaps that is nowhere better illustrated than by the man who sits in the middle of a vortex currently whirling about him: Justice Clarence Thomas. He could well be dubbed "Silent Clarence," in oblique homage to President Calvin Coolidge, for the man makes not a sound from the bench during arguments. Not a word is spoken, not a question asked. He has been described as looking at times bored and uncomfortable while cases are being heard. He is noteworthy for his reticence, but even more so for his history, for it was his confirmation that set the bar for every confirmation thereafter.

It was clear, even from the beginning, that Clarence Thomas' confirmation would not go smoothly, and that was magnified when accusations about sexual harassment and misconduct were lodged by several women, the most prominent of whom, Anita Hill, was more than willing to testify that on several occasions, the nominee made remarks, or took actions, that were highly offensive and sexually charged. One would think that such accusations, lodged in formal hearing and under oath, would sink a potential nomination. Somehow, through the miracle of political gamesmanship, it was not to be, and Clarence Thomas became a Justice of the Supreme Court.

And now, all these years later, the swirling of the moral vortex has caught up with him again, as it appears that he and his wife have been involved in tax evasion, but more importantly, in the possible sale of his position on the bench through the auspices of his wife's lobbying efforts. While perhaps no "for sale" sign was planted on their lawn, it becomes clearer as days pass, that certain decisions rendered by the justice seem to be in line with those groups that engage his wife's lobbying firm, not the least of which was the significant Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

Perhaps he feels he is owed. Perhaps he does not see the illegality of his actions, a criminal offense for a judge of any type. Perhaps he believes that he is beyond the reach of the very laws he presides over, given that in all the years of its existence, only one Supreme Court Justice -- Samuel Chase -- was ever impeached, and he ended up being found not guilty of the charges. He is the only one who can say, and he continues to say nothing. Silence is often the only defense of the guilty, for to open their mouths leads to them being hung by their own tongue.

How can we, the people of the United States, feel good about our nation and our government is it turns out that all three branches of it are steeped in corruption? This is not the nation our founders had envisioned when they went to war to free themselves from tyranny, because we have swapped the tyranny of a foreign power for the tyranny of a ruling social class. If the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are to continue to have any meaning, they must apply to all of us, equally, and justice must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our land, even the highest houses within it, the halls of government. No person who claims the mantel of citizen of the United States can be above the laws that bind us together and protect our individual freedom and liberty from the duplicity of others. If a Justice of the Supreme Court can be corrupted, then there is no justice.

Of course, the injunction is that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and therefore, Justice Thomas should have his day in court, to explain himself and his actions and those of his wife in regards to conflicts of interest. While it may be satisfying to try him and convict him in the court of public opinion, his guilt or innocence can only be established through the rule of law, as it should be. If he is found guilty or not, through civil action or court of impeachment, such would strike a blow for justice and restore faith in a legal system which seems bent in favor of The Monied Powers. For a justice system that places some above others, and treats it own with deference it does not accord to the average citizen, has no business being part of a nation dedicated to individual freedom and liberty. So let him do the right thing, and hold himself up before public scrutiny, and prove that he is a man of justice.

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