I have been fascinated by, and far more aware of, our legal system over the last four or five years. It amazes me how many different ways there are to see the same event legally, how many processes there are –or can be — in the administration of justice, and how different rules/laws are applied in different circumstances, by whom and to whom. In all of this, I have fallen back on two basic ideas:
- Fair is fair.
- No one is above the law.
This week, as Donald Trump stated that he has the “absolute ability to pardon himself”, the law broke. I don’t know if legally the case can be made that he has that power, but if my assumptions are correct and he can pardon himself, there is no law, and there is no justice. In a democracy anyway, if all citizens are equal (fair is fair), then the law should apply to everyone (no one is above the law) and it should be applied to all in the same way. If a man or woman steals a pair of shoes, and they are sentenced to X amount, as prescribed by law, then any man or woman — including someone in office, including someone with the highest office in the land.
I am well aware that this is a fantasy, and not the way justice is meted out, but it is an ideal that we should struggle toward. It is the goal, and the closer we get to it, the more fair and the more democratic we will be. The further away we get from it, the more we descend into chaos.
This means that, if fair is fair, and Donald Trump can say, “the law doesn’t apply to me and there are no consequences because I don’t want there to be”, then the drug dealer on the corner should be able to say the same thing because he or she doesn’t want there to be. This is the same idea that says that if the policeman can beat someone without consequence, where do they get the right to blame citizens for doing the same?
Years ago, I came up the term “the Mike Brown standard”. I look forward to the day when we use it on a daily basis. The idea, regardless of whether you think Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, is that if he couldn’t get away with it, then you shouldn’t be able to either. If he was “suspicious”, then the corporate lawyer on Wall Street is, as well.
When we start viewing things through that lens, we will have criminal justice reform in a hurry. Every citizen in this country should have the same presumption of innocence that the Wall Street lawyer has. Until the Mike Browns of this world get that, we’re not a full democracy. The fact that one man can have no consequences for criminal acts he may have committed which effected millions of people Mr. Trump, while another is dead for ripping off a store owner, (Mr. Brown may have stolen a cigar from a store — or committed other acts involving that store or the neighborhood).
In order for there to be “equal justice under the law”, we ought to consider the Mike Brown standard when we consider the President’s pardon power. Until then, it’s just not fair.
Resisting in Peace,