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There Goes the Judge?

Photo Source Patrick Feller | CC BY 2.0

I don’t trust judges. My experiences with those who sit above the rest of the courtroom wearing robes and assuming all will rise when they enter have rarely been positive and never worth repeating. The idea that another human whose primary difference from the rest of us is that they feel they have the knowledge, understanding and most of all the right to sit in judgment of others is one I have unwillingly acknowledged but never accepted. Like a confessor priest is to Catholics, the men and women on the bench dole out punishments and demand obedience from those who stand before them. Also like a Catholic confessor, the more arrogant among the judiciary probably think they too are doing the work of their god.

Me, I’m not buying it. From John Roberts to Earl Warren and Felix Frankfurter to the first Chief Justice John Jay, the judges in the highest court in the land are just as human as that lawyer advertising their personal injury business on TV. More than anything else, it is their ambition that got them to where they are now. Bob Dylan once sang that he was “ashamed to live in a land where justice was just a game.” His words ring truer than ever these days, when cops walk free after murdering unarmed people and privileged white rapists are barely punished by judges whose understanding of the law all too often seems to depend on the wealth and social position of the defendant. Like virtually all those in powerful positions, many judges’ sense of justice has been compromised probably more than once and their sense of duty has not always been to the principles they pontificate about, but to those who have helped them along their way.

All but one of my court appearances had to do with the possession of marijuana or my involvement in a protest. The sole exception involved a disturbing the peace charge that was eventually bargained down to a civil complaint over a noise ordinance. After the judge admonished me about playing music too loud, she gave me a ten dollar fine. As for the marijuana possession appearances, all but one of them resulted in me being sentenced to probation and community service. A friend who got busted with me one of the times had a different fate. While he stood on a platform surrounded by a mahogany rail in the Berkeley City Court and listened to the charge being read, the two cops who had busted him and me sat next to the prosecutor. The next part of the procedure would have the public defender enter my friend’s plea. Instead, the judge looked over to the prosecutor and the cops and told the court he was dismissing the charges. To say the least, the cops and prosecutor were surprised. Before the prosecutor could respond, the judge looked at the cops and calmly called them out, stating that after reading the arrest report he had come to the conclusion that the arrest was illegal, without probable cause and stunk of police harassment. Furthermore, he continued, if they ever attempted to bring someone into his court under similar circumstances, he would bring contempt charges against the two police officers. Most of the courtroom could barely contain their glee as they watched the cops leave the courtroom. I wouldn’t swear that they were embarrassed, but I’m certain they were pissed off. My charge was dropped. Justice had been served. Of course, after that episode, my friend and I were on the cops’ shit list and tread carefully whenever we saw them.

I tell this anecdote to make a point. Even if one doesn’t believe the justice system in the United States is fair, it can make a difference who the judges are. Even though the system of justice in the United States is weighted towards those who pursue and protect profit, are white and male, a judge who leans towards the rights of the powerless and disenfranchised might keep a person out of jail. In the case of the Supreme Court, such a judge might bend the interpretation of the Constitution towards those without power in this nation. Their presence won’t change the essential nature of the justice system, but it might make life a bit less difficult for those whom the power elites do not represent.

All of which brings me to Bret Kavanaugh. This man should never sit on any court, much less the Supreme Court. His judicial philosophy is informed by an elitist interpretation of the Constitution which is further reinforced by his elitist upbringing. His involvement in the torture of detainees under the Bush administration, the sexual assaults he is accused of and denies, the lying under oath in his earlier confirmation hearings—all of these are not just examples of one mans arrogance and self-righteousness. No they are symptomatic of the very nature of the system that grooms men and women to rule over the rest of us.

Bret Kavanaugh needs to be sent back to his suburban mansion without a job on the Supreme Court, thankful that he isn’t disbarred. Ideally, he should be forced out of the entire judiciary and be relegated to chasing ambulances and buying tickets to Nationals games. I’m not holding my breath.