“Equal Justice Under Law”[i] is etched into the main entrance of the United States Supreme court. It is also the foundation of the Republic, the ideal this nation was founded and built upon. It is the unobtainable we, at one point, strove for and its erosion is now the reason we see so many cracks in the institution we call the United States of America.
Just as a river erodes the land, we see the abuse of the ideal of equality under the law eroding the average citizens’ belief in the legitimacy of our government. One can argue, as many have, we have never met this ideal. That is most certainly true. We have only to look at our history to know this. From our declaration in 1776, past our first experiment in self-government, through the creation of our current constitution and its several amendments we have treated some with deference and others with disdain, but the ideal was there and enough Americans believed our government would strive to see that ideal become a reality that the transgressions were, for the most part, overlooked.
Today I am not so sure that remains true. In years past the most egregious of discrimination could be quietly masked from the general population. Today they are not, and because of the various agendas they are all put on display before us on a daily basis. The hypocrisies of the politicians are evidenced there as well. In combination they are raising a question I never thought I would hear, is our government still, as Abraham Lincoln said, [a] “government of the people, by the people, for the people”[ii] or has the preferential justice given to the rich or politically connected become so blatant as to create a doubt in the majority of the nation?
Those who wonder how Mr. Trump could become a viable candidate, and quite possibly the next President, do not seem to understand how or why he is so attractive to so many. I submit it is precisely because the majority of our nation has begun to lose confidence we can expect equal justice under the law and our respect for this principle is significantly declining that leads to the popularity of such a candidate. I offer the following as food for thought.
African-Americans have historically received unequal justice. It really doesn’t matter what part of the country we are talking about, and although the south is always held out as an example, the truth is the northern, mid-western and western states have also discriminated in their sentencing. The civil rights movement of the 1960s became the high point of their fight for equality, but in parallel there were much more militant elements seeking to overthrow the system. They were held down by the weight of the government, but they’ve never gone away. I believe you can better trace the evolution of the black lives matter movement not to Reverend King, but to Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.[iii]
Respect for Life. As a society we have historically had to balance the rights of one against the rights of the many. In that balancing we have always had the recourse to appeal a popular political or legal decision up to the highest court to seek the protection for the one. In its landmark decision of 1973 in Roe v Wade, the court chose to not protect the needs of the one, instead they deferred the decision on life to the medical community, and therein created a life taking industry and a political conflict that rages to this day. You can argue when life begins, but medical science advances almost daily to the point a fetus is viable almost at conception. This conflict is only exasperated as the language of the two positions becomes more strident and the political parties fight for political gain.
The abuse of political power for personal and political gain. As the average American watches the news he or she is inundated with scandal after alleged scandal with corporation presidents being charged by the government for corruption or wrong doing and at the end of the day having their shareholders pay the fine while they collect huge bonus. Or we see how the executive branch departments have been politicized to target political opposition or absolve favored politicians from criminal wrong-doing. Each event may have only a mild effect, but I am reminded that the Grand Canyon began with a trickle of the Colorado river. The same is true for the erosion of our confidence in the expectation of equal justice under the law, and our respect for the law creators, enforcers, and administrators.