A few years ago, I realized that I had never read the classic book To Kill A Mockingbird by Alabama’s own Harper Lee. How did that happen? Apparently, this world-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning classic with Alabama roots was not required reading anywhere in my educational journey.
So, I found a copy and commenced reading and quickly saw why it is a classic. It’s a fictional tale filled with the reality of things that should never happen in any society, not the least of which is the abuse of the justice system. In one excerpt as the main character, Atticus Finch is defending a black man in a trial against false claims, he makes an impassioned plea to the jury. Allow me just to quote it directly:
“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers and in our courts, all men are created equal.”
I actually believe that to be a true statement. I know that some want to say that our justice system is rigged against this person or that one, but I believe wholeheartedly that the even application of law in our society sets us apart from so many others in the history of the world.
But what bothers me most recently is when those laws are flagrantly ignored by those whom we have entrusted to enforce them. There is a new trend in our society - the open and deliberate onset of activist prosecutors and politicians who choose to ignore the law.
Case in point: have you heard about the activist prosecutors who are filling out the ranks as District Attorneys in major cities? Most recently, aside from the already egregious cases of the DA’s in Los Angeles and San Francisco is the activist DA in Manhattan, New York. Recently elected Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg has intentionally directed his staff to reduce any pursuit of prosecution of multiple felonious crimes at no more than misdemeanor level. Regardless of state sentencing guidelines or, for that matter, the desire of the city’s residents to have a safe and prosperous community, DA Bragg has chosen to enact what the new Mayor has dubbed a “hug a thug” policy.
But let me bring it home for you. What about Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, who has determined on his own that municipal court drug possession charges should not be prosecuted? Woodfin went so far as to issue blanket exonerations of prior convictions in April of 2021, calling it his “Pardon’s for Progress” program.
Is that his role? The laws are on the books and enacted by the legislature. Should a Mayor of one of the largest cities in the southeastern United States be able to just choose to disavow those laws?
Here’s another one: Did you hear that the Mayor of the small town of Springville is running for Governor? In his own words, Mayor Dave Thomas is running for Governor and he smokes pot. What? Apparently, he wants to see the decriminalization of marijuana but so lacks an understanding of the process that he isn’t aware that as Governor he would not be the one enacting the laws. He would apparently espouse a position that the Chief Executive of the state is allowed to pick and choose which laws to enforce. Never mind that, Thomas apparently served in the State Legislature in the past … why not? Mayor Woodfin does it.
But then there’s the case of Gov. Kay Ivey and casino gaming. You may have heard that the legislature is once again considering the expansion of casino gaming across the state because surely that’s the most important thing for us to be focused on in the age of COVID and federal overreach. Put aside how any of you might or might not feel about casinos being placed around the state and recall that the bill that was considered just last session (and likely again this year) literally proposed to write into state law that the several gaming interests in this state who have been breaking our laws - literally breaking our laws - for years, would now be rewarded with a monopoly and the divvying up of our state to give them ground to build more casino’s.
I thought “surely not. Ivey wouldn’t stand for that, would she?” Apparently, she would, as evidenced by her own statement last year that enforcement of the laws on gaming was too hard.
You heard me: the Chief Executive of our state thought that it was just too hard to enforce the laws, so as a result she was prepared to sign the legislation if the legislature could get it done.
In her words in April of 2021: “Right now, gambling is going on. Much of it is illegal and it is done in the shadows. We need to put laws on the books, control gambling, enforce it and be sure the people of Alabama are the beneficiaries of the proceeds.”
Let me translate that for you into the language of non-politicians: ”Gambling is illegal but I don’t have the will to enforce the current laws. So let’s just legalize it and I’ll try to be better at enforcing the laws once I know we can make some money off of it.”
I guess we could say that about prostitution, or illegal drug use too. Heck, let’s just open up the floodgates to anything we’re uncomfortable with having to enforce.
I’ve got news: You have one job! Just one! And that job involves the enforcement of the laws of this state duly enacted by the legislature.
The laws of this state are to be enacted by the legislative body and enforced by the executive. Prosecutors may enter into plea deals but they cannot choose to openly disavow laws that they have no right to ignore. Executives such as mayors and governors cannot choose to provide blanket cover for the abuse of our legal system by perpetrators from the smallest drug possession case to the largest gambling operation.
If we are to be a nation of laws, then the laws must matter. It really boils down to that.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts Rightside Radio M-F 2-5 pm on WVNN. His column appears every Monday in 1819 News. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to www.rightsideradio.org The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.