In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, many citizens, politicians and reporters have developed an interest in, and sometimes strong opinions about, the mechanics of our system of justice. The words “rule of law” can mean many different things to many different people. Certainly, it could mean ruling with laws. It could mean protecting with laws. It might mean avoiding what we today call “judicial activism.” It encompasses all of those things.
The words “Constitutional rights” should mean the same thing to all Americans. While circumstances may tempt us to set aside our Constitutional principles because of the terrible facts of a crime, it is irresponsible to label our Constitution quaint or obsolete. For those of us sworn to support and defend the Constitution, such labels are more than irresponsible — they are dishonorable. Our founders dealt first-hand with a government ignoring its established laws. The American colonies, while taxed by the British monarchy, were not represented in Parliament. Of course, King George was taken to task for his refusal to provide even “unalienable” rights to American colonists. Our beloved Constitution and Bill of Rights grew out of this desire to have a “government of law, not men.” Our society and government is to abide by the laws and neither is allowed to act above them.
We should look back in wonder at this justice system that was put in place in our country — with juries of our peers, rights to bear arms, and to speak freely — a system that had never been tried before. And it has succeeded — not without mistakes and error along the way — because of our faith in holding true to the rule of law established through our Constitution. Between 2001 and 2010, citizen juries decided 544 alleged terrorist cases in our federal courts, with about 90% of them being convicted on the terrorism charges. By contrast, military tribunals tried seven “enemy combatants,” only three of whom are still incarcerated today.
As a judge, my role is to ensure that the rights and liberties of our citizens are protected. It is my duty to do so even for a person or organization that I might not personally like because, regardless of my personal feelings, that person or organization shares the same “unalienable” rights under the law as you and I. King George did not do that, to his nation’s peril.
I urge you to be proud of American ideals. Be proud of our judicial system and the rule of law. We invented it when others told us we were naïve. That label has been proudly worn by folks like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln during the most trying of times. I encourage you to confidently do the same.
David Hall is the Nolan County Court at Law Judge. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .