Anymore I dread turning on the news every morning. I used to be a news junkie, but I just can’t handle it. I used to watch the news on TV while I got ready, and then I’d listen to NPR on my way to drop my oldest son off at school and then on my way to the office. Aside from the fact that each day’s news seems to only be more depressing than the day before, I have reached my limit on the injection of political ideology into the legal system. I know ‑ it’s always been there, and it always will be, but it seems that the American legal system has recently become the pawn in the game of politics. And that’s a dangerous path to traverse. The issue has become so pervasive that I have asked my friend and former Editor, Sarah Roland, to co‑write this column.
Take for example Operation Lone Star; no greater waste of money and resources may have ever been undertaken just so the Governor can use human beings as puppets to try to claim victory for his party and mouth off to the President of the United States. And now, the Governor is helping fund this Operation with over $30 million diverted from the already troubled Juvenile Justice Department. Meanwhile, the rights of hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal defendants hang in the balance while a few of our brothers and sisters, like Angelica Cogliano who is a member of this editorial board, fight to protect their bare minimum constitutional rights. Thank you to those in this fight.
Another example is the recent leak of the draft opinion from the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s unprecedented. There’s no real point to address the merits of the legal analysis in Dobbs yet since this is just a draft, after all. And we’re not here to argue whether abortion should be legal or not (you can likely guess both of our viewpoints), but how are we to feel confident in our system of justice if the highest court in the land no longer has dignity and is simply playing politics, or worse, has become relegated to a political pawn of whichever party is in power. Let us be clear, whichever side of the political spectrum leaked the opinion, it was wrong. Unprecedented. And what real purpose did it serve other than to further fuel a raging, incessant fire? However, should we be surprised? Please read Buck Files’ article in this issue regarding the embarrassment that was the Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings. This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only was an unquestionably qualified judge attacked, but our criminal justice system and the very work we all do every single day was blistered by the senators who played politics to demean her; not her credentials but her character. What was the character flaw that she was attacked so vehemently for? Being a criminal defense attorney. Protecting the constitutional rights of people in the most impossible of situations. Ensuring that our constitution means something for everyone. Since the SCOTUS does hear criminal cases, what a welcome relief that there will now be one justice who has done what we do. A justice who understands what it’s like to not just stand beside, but stand up for, the constitutional rights and protections that all of us enjoy and that many often take for granted. The very realistic hope is that Ketanji Brown Jackson will bring a different perspective to the Court. There are three sitting justices who were once prosecutors. Now there will be one former public defender.
How are we supposed to fight the ever‑unpopular political problems that we deal with every day; like our clients’ mental health problems and how that plays into their defense, or Veterans in the criminal justice system, or marijuana cases and the discrepancies in how those cases are treated state‑wide, when the very fact of doing the work we do regardless of the subject matter of a particular case is under attack in the halls of congress? It feels like we are in a whirlwind these days with everything in the news and with courts rushing to unclog the COVID backlog as if it can be done in a matter of a few months. We are going nonstop and making that ever uphill climb. But we have to remember to take care of ourselves. This month – May – is Mental Health Awareness Month. And we are all acutely aware of the criminalization and warehousing of those who suffer from mental illnesses. That’s the appalling reality of our criminal justice system. We fight against it every day one case at a time. But we can’t be effective advocates if our own mental health hangs in the balance.
So, let’s take care of ourselves and lean on each other and continue the fight to which we have all been called. We need to encourage each other and build each other up. Let us support each other and be sensitive to one another. We continue to learn from each other by using resources like this magazine and the countless CLE opportunities TCDLA makes available each year. It’s good that it’s almost time for Rusty so we can gather with the folks across this State who take the same punches we do on a daily basis and break bread together and maybe imbibe a little and rejuvenate our batteries. We’re in this together.
Jeep Darnell & Sarah Roland