Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Is the American Justice System becoming an extension of politics?
Mike Whaley, Education Policy Fellow
Politics. Policy. Republican. Democrat. Conservative. Liberal. Partisan. Bias. Equal. These words have taken over mainstream media over the last half decade, especially in response to the American government’s systematic and thorough politicization of basic human rights, like access to due process, healthcare, housing, and food. But other things besides human rights are being turned into a politics war now, highlighted by the late June decision to relieve Southern District of New York Lawyer Geoffrey Berman of his duties for the suspected purpose of continuing the investigation into President Trump’s lawyer, and other Trump associates, along with Attorney General Barr directing the Justice Department to investigate certain cases that were favorable to the President’s agenda, while declining to prosecute in cases less favorable to the President or his associates. While voices on both sides of the political spectrum are speaking loudly and publicly about their approval or disapproval of some of these actions, a very important question is now suddenly being catapulted to the forefront of our nation: Is America’s judicial system being turned into a partisan machine? Or maybe even more importantly than that, are our elected officials concerned with the people they serve and upholding the Constitution they swore to defend, or are they more concerned with adhering to the values that their party and sponsors are pushing?
To look at the above questions, one must first consider what does it even mean to be partisan in this current day and age? According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, partisan is defined as, “strongly supporting a person, principle, or political party, often without considering or judging the matter very carefully,”. When looking at how this plays out in the American Justice system, whether it’s at the top of the spectrum in the Supreme Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Justice, or at the bottom of the spectrum in local police departments, district attorney’s offices, and district courts, sometimes the rule of law is undermined in order to illustrate or serve a larger political, and sometimes even personal, agenda. So, if that’s the case, how do partisan influences and political ideologies find their way into the criminal justice system?
Historically, the Democratic Party has considered the criminal justice system one of its highest priorities. This is highly evident through Presidential Nominee Joe Biden’s 2020 choice of former California Attorney General Kamala Harris for the Vice President seat at the federal level, the appointment and/or election of 24 Democrat State Attorney Generals at the state level, and 24 of the 41 members of the House Judiciary Committee being Democrats at the legislative level. From the smallest of stages, to the largest of stages, the founding tenant of the Democratic Party, social equality, is shown in one way through their zeal in advocating for criminal justice reform.
On the flip side, the Republican Party hasn’t considered the criminal justice system one of the higher items on their priority list. Or even more accurately, both sides of the political aisle can’t come to a neat resolution when it comes to reforming the system that is deemed by some as corrupt and biased. President Trump, the public and de facto leader of the party, has instituted a stance on the criminal justice system that has been touted as “Law and Order”. Congressional Republicans have been forced to fall in line with this line of speech that leaders on the forefront of the civil rights and criminal justice movements have called a “complete weaponization of race in order to stir up fear.” This above statement is seen the most when President Trump said about primarily white citizens of Michigan who protested for their rights outside of the capital, while carrying assault weapons, “These are very good people, but they are angry.” Comparatively, when speaking about primarily African Americans who were protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin, President Trump referred to these peaceful protesters as, “THUGS” and saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
While not all Republicans support or stand with the racialized, hate-inciting language above, and while not all Democrats are ride-or-die advocates for radical criminal justice reform, it’s important to note that there are some politicians and officials, both Democrat and Republican, who bring their political and ideological views into their jobs of carrying out justice. For instance, in response to the recent pushes to defund the police, or in other words invest more resources into the community so police can respond to only violent situations, Congressional Democrats for the most part tend to be in favor of this type of reform, in order to help address bias in the criminal justice system. Congressional Republicans however, tend to be opposed to this type of reform, citing the need for a higher police presence and a pro-police and pro-military stance, which fits quite nicely with the “Law and Order” type of mentality the Office of the President has been pushing the last four years.
All of that said, when returning to the guiding question of this article, the answer must be a resounding yes. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines justice as, “fairness in the way people are dealt with.” Justice can’t truly be achieved when partisan influences rear their ugly head in the way people are treated. Because at the end of the day, if we have political leaders pushing for differences of treatment in legal situations from their Twitter feed, and have a house divided against itself when pushing for equitable treatment, real justice can’t be achieved. The only justice that will be reached, is the justice that the most powerful side wants.
As a think tank, GGI seeks to amplify the voices of all youth. Each blog will feature 1-3 articles from our organization's fellows and directors that feature topics in current affairs and public policy that they are passionate about.