Revolutionary Tribunals
Our courts have too often become expressions of the popular will.


Victor Davis Hanson

In other words, media hysteria, popular anger, and ideology determine whether revolutionary courts go after someone like Scooter Libby as an enemy of the people, or ignore those in the Obama administration who lie under oath or take the Fifth Amendment. The court system has become a valuable tool of perceived social, rather than individual, justice.

Note also that Conrad Black — writer, member of the House of Lords, and ostentatiously rich fat cat and conservative media mogul — was put on trial by Patrick Fitzgerald for all sorts of sensationalized crimes. Yet he was eventually convicted on just two lesser counts, and apparently was sent to prison as a reminder that a flamboyant conservative mogul should watch what he says and does. He is barred from entering the United States for the next 30 years — unlike illegal immigrants, who soon may be able to claim amnesty even after breaking a federal law and committing two DUI offenses. In that regard, note also that Jon Corzine, liberal former senator from and governor of New Jersey, was at the heart of the financial meltdown at MF Global — involved in improper practices that cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars. So far Corzine, unlike Black, seems immune from commensurate federal criminal prosecution.

People can legitimately disagree on the merits of the George Zimmerman self-defense case. But few serious observers believe that Zimmerman can ever be proved to have committed second-degree murder as charged. That prosecutorial overreach came in response to the popular furor whipped up by racialists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, veiled suggestions from Attorney General Holder that civil-rights violations might be prosecuted, and improper editorializing by the president of the United States about his and Trayvon Martin’s shared racial makeup. All this led the state of Florida to appoint a special prosecutor overriding local public prosecutors, apparently because of both fears of civil unrest and liberal perceptions of social justice.

The popular media once again did their best, along with politicos, to use a criminal court for larger social agendas and therefore hyped the racial aspects of the trial: CBS aired doctored photos of George Zimmerman to downplay the severity of his injuries. NBC altered Zimmerman’s 911 tape to make him sound a racist. The New York Times invented a new rubric, “white Hispanic,” to ensure that the case was explosively reinvented in the media as white on black, rather than a Latino/black incident.

CNN published photos of Zimmerman’s ID, making it easy for viewers to gain access to his Social Security number. Celebrities like director Spike Lee publicized (inaccurately) Zimmerman’s home address. The New Black Panther Party put a bounty on Zimmerman’s head. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus smeared him as a killer and racist.

Again, no one knows exactly what happened on the night Trayvon Martin was killed; but given the media distortions, the threats, and the popular agitation, everyone knows that a revolutionary tribunal is in session to find Zimmerman guilty of murder. He has ended up a necessary sacrificial pawn to serve wider issues of social justice, or at least avoid civil violence.

The American court system is insidiously focusing on social transformation rather than individual justice. If Neanderthal reactionaries in California twice voted to reiterate that marriage is between a man and a woman, then leave it to judges and courts to find them bigoted and politically incorrect. In the present revolutionary environment, the degree of the Obama administration’s enforcement of federal laws concerning gay marriage, or illegal immigration, or the new health-care law has hinged on politics and perceptions about social justice — and the courts increasingly predicate their own decision-making on these same considerations. The street can brand a court either an esteemed ally or a reactionary enemy of the people, and so the courts make the necessary adjustments.

If only George Zimmerman had Hispanicized his first name and adopted his maternal last name, the popular tribunal might have never indicted Jorge Meza. If only Conrad Black had been head of the New York Times, whose incompetent, high-living owners have cost stockholders hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than an outspoken conservative public figure, the prosecutor might not have been too interested in his affairs. And if Scooter Libby had just worked for Barack Obama, a special prosecutor would no more have gone after him for leaking or being untruthful than it has James Clapper or Eric Holder.

Twenty years ago we laughed at the absurdities of the O. J. Simpson trial and verdict. But that circus has proved to be the blueprint for 21st-century American criminal justice.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review