WHEELING – The U.S. Supreme Court ordered that the phrase “equal justice under law” be engraved on the west pediment of its courthouse in 1932.
Derived from our Fourteenth Amendment, those words solemnly promise that our legal system will dispense justice without regard to race, religion, or national origin. Every lawyer swears to uphold our constitution, and its sacred guarantee of equal justice.
The idea of equal justice under law has fallen under unprecedented public attack this year. In April, Donald Trump attacked the integrity of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his national origin. Trump claimed that Curiel could not be fair to Trump because Curiel “is a Mexican” and “I’m building a wall.” Curiel is of course every bit as American as Trump if not more; he was born in Indiana in 1953.
Trump’s various claims that he would impose religious tests for entry into the united states, or even deport people based on their religion, followed his Curiel comments. His campaign became famous for rebroadcasting tweets and memes from white supremacist organizations, often containing false attacks on blacks. Racist groups marching under the banner of “white nationalism,” the “alt-right” and even the KKK itself have flocked to Trump and his campaign.
If you’re inclined to think my comments on this are a “partisan attack” on Trump, typical of a “liberal,” consider that Paul Ryan called the comments on Curiel “the textbook definition of racism” (he supports Trump anyway). Dick Cheney said Trump’s Muslim ban “goes against everything we stand for and believe in” (he supports Trump anyway). Mitt Romney said Trump would change America with “trickle-down racism” (Romney does not support Trump). Anyway, those guys are not exactly lefties, and they can see it.
With Trump on his way to a humiliating defeat, we might be tempted to think all this has not been a problem. Trump’s campaign will be soundly defeated in November and that will be that. But the damage being done to the fabric of our country by insidious hatred and open racism goes well beyond the Presidential campaign. And that brings us to the office of the Attorney General here in West Virginia.
Patrick Morrisey hired a white supremacist to be his spokeswoman. He plucked her out of the West Virginia “Family Policy Council,” which is now essentially just a gay-hating group. This person, Carrie Bowe, appeared in white nationalist videos, that have been available online for years. Nonetheless, she worked in the attorney general’s office until this got noticed. Her comments in the videos are straight out of the alt-right, white nationalist, racist playbook.
Patrick Morrisey has a history of hustling problems out his door when the light comes on. Last year, he tried to put a campaign manager on the public payroll, and had to seek his resignation when the public found out. So it will not be a surprise if he swiftly fires Ms. Bowe, now that her racist videos look like a political liability (ed. note: he did). But that hardly ends the matter.
Issues related to “equal justice under law” permeate the attorney general’s job. Morrisey’s office has taken stances against equal justice for gay West Virginians, women, and blacks. Having lost those battles, he’s now picking on the transgendered. It is impossible to imagine that the toxic views advocated by Bowe were some kind of a secret in the AG’s office. Morrisey’s attacks on the rights of various disadvantaged groups previously smacked of mere political opportunism. But with a person like Bowe finding a cozy home in his office, you have to consider the possibility that Morrisey is comfortable with, and sympathetic to, such noxious views.
This is completely unacceptable. Those who harbor hatreds like these cannot fairly administer our government. They cannot hope to dispense equal justice under law. Morrisey has a lot of questions to answer – about how such a person could insinuate herself into the offices of the Attorney General of our great state, about how her views could have remained a secret and about how, if they were not a secret, she was allowed to continue to work there.
It’s obvious that the Trump campaign has emboldened hate groups. Of course, all of Trump’s supporters are not racist because some of them are. But his unprecedented campaign has given cover to truly nasty groups. During the last West Virginia legislative session, one Delegate felt comfortable tweeting the n-word. Another called for a “dominion theology,” Christian government (that’s unconstitutional). We need to put a stop to this.
President Theodore Roosevelt attended a play performed in 1908, written by Israel Zangwill, an English writer of Russian-Jewish extraction. The play was about America. The performance builds to these words:
"There she lies, the great Melting-Pot — listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian, — black and yellow — Jew and Gentile, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross ... God is making the American."
TR loved it and reportedly told the playwright “I’m not a Bernard Shaw or an Ibsen man, this is the stuff!”
We tend to look down on our past selves, and think we are more enlightened than they were in 1908. We better make sure we are right. Roosevelt knew then that this country was for everyone. No race, no religion, no country from which someone came gets special privileges in America. Americans are made from the stuff of all the world.
So when next you meet someone of a different race, or religion, or ancestry, stop and listen to the cauldron bubbling. Listen to God, while he is “making the American,” and turn away from the hate groups and their nasty messages, and their messengers, too.
Regan is the former vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party and an attorney at Bordas & Bordas PLLC in Wheeling.