President Trump recently shamed himself by denigrating the U.S. justice system, calling it a “joke” and a “laughingstock.” Playing the part of the tin horn dictator, Trump bellowed that our nation needs “quick justice and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now.”
This broadside on our nation’s criminal justice system reflects appalling ignorance.
Enamored as he is with so-called “strong men,” Trump seems willing – if not eager – to trample over the venerable concept of due process of law. You want “quick and strong,” Mr. President? Look no further than the world’s tyrants who send their henchmen – often in the dead of night – to capture, kidnap and kill “suspects.” They leave no trace of justice.
I’ve been part of the U.S. criminal justice system, and I’ve worked day in and day out with federal prosecutors and federal defenders, with federal agents and federal courts, and with the many other dedicated individuals who routinely put in extremely long hours, occasionally risking their lives, to ensure that our system of justice, though imperfect, remains fair, objective, thorough and – yes – just.
I wish that every citizen could see, as I have seen, the professionalism and dedication of those whose work is the lifeblood of that system. From victim witness coordinators to probation officers to federal mediators and Article III judges, it would be hard to find people more committed to the promise contained in our Pledge of Allegiance – that ours is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” That phrase, well-known to every school child, may yet be aspirational, but it speaks to a noble aspiration, one deeply embedded in our national DNA.
When I served as U.S. Attorney for Idaho, a delegation of Russian justice officials visited Boise, ostensibly to learn about our criminal justice system. Over lunch, I asked the group leader what protections his country had in place to ensure that people accused of crimes were afforded due process. He gave me a dismissive look and said, “You have your system; we have our system. Let’s eat.”
Yes, they have their system, and it is most assuredly “quick and strong.” But speed and strength do not guarantee justice. The Russian system, often violent and corrupt to the core, is one in which those close to power are free to do as they please and those out of favor are summarily condemned. This is not a system we should want to emulate.
During his tenure as president, Mr. Trump has repeatedly vilified our federal judiciary, undercut the rule of law, disregarded governing norms, and attacked the people and the institutions that give life to the guarantees enshrined in our Constitution. Sadly, we see that it is our president, not our system of justice, who has become a “laughingstock.” And that, my friends, is no laughing matter.
Richardson is a former U.S. Attorney for Idaho.