The morning after the election, I had a familiar feeling as I walked into the courthouse. It took me a while to figure out what it was but I finally did. It was the feeling you have after losing a trial that you should have won.
It was the feeling you get when you have the law and the facts on your side but the jury doesn’t care. They see what they want to see. They disregard the law. They vote to convict because of the way they feel, because of the way your client looks, because they trust police officers, because they feel sorry for the victim. They are afraid and the guilty verdict makes them feel safe.
You talked to the jury about the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof and reasonable doubt. You didn’t ignore the bad facts, you dealt with them. You pointed out the holes in the prosecutions case. Your client wasn’t perfect but that wasn’t the issue. You asked each juror if they would hold the prosecution to their burden of proof. They all promised they would but they didn’t. They lied to you. They ignored the law. The law you swore to uphold. The law that you believe binds us together as a nation.
At that moment you lose faith in those constitutional principles that you hold sacred. Trial by jury, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to counsel. You get an unpleasant reminder that constitutional rights are just words on paper. A jury room is just like in a voting booth, people can do what they want. You don’t feel like you make a difference. You wonder what you did wrong. You feel disconnected. You wonder if you convinced yourself that the case was better than it was.
It isn’t a surprise but it still stings. Racism, sexism, conscious and unconscious bias, we know those things exist but we convince ourselves that we can deal with them. We know prejudice sits silently in the jury box, it hides underneath a black robe, and it can sometimes even be heard at the table next to us.
That feeling hasn’t gone away and it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. We tend to remember our defeats more than our victories. We also know what is coming: law and order. No more hope and change. Not even compassionate conservatism. We can expect restrictions on civil liberties, more mass-incarceration, increased racial profiling and harsh immigration policies.
If the election felt like a jury’s verdict, the inauguration feels like a sentencing. So how should we do our time under this new administration?
We won’t be spending it in golden towers, seaside resorts and private clubs. We will spend our time in section eight housing, in projects, in trailer parks, in jails and prisons. Those inner city neighborhoods where people supposedly can’t walk, that is where we will go to meet our clients, to find witnesses and to see for ourselves what the police claim they saw. Those towns in the rust belt, we’ll be there as well. We will represent the unemployed factory workers and coal miners struggling with opioid addiction. We’ll spend our time in municipal courts trying to keep our clients out of modern day debtor’s prisons. We’ll try to manage our heavy caseloads and we’ll do our best for our clients. We’ll lose more often than we’ll win but we won’t stop fighting.
Today, let us remember that we are on ones who preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Remember that winning doesn’t make you great. Standing for something does. Remember that we don’t quit and we can’t be bought. We are the best defense money can’t buy. Remember that facts are stubborn things, just like us.
When injustice begins to roll down we are the ones who try to stop the flood, to turn back the tide. We don’t do it because we think it can be done, we do it because it is the right thing to do. We don’t do it because we will win; we do it because there are more important things than winning. We don’t do it because it will make us rich; we do it because we know others are poor.
We know that the arc of the moral universe bends under the weight of the words and deeds of the righteous. So let’s do what we always do when the system fails, let’s harness our righteous anger and fight even harder for our clients and our Constitution.