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Chief Justice Warns about Judges Who Ignore the Law
The Massachusetts News
October 12, 2001
It was an admonition to preserve our constitutional rights, rather than
throw them away in exchange for the illusion of security.
[MN comment]
Chief Justice Margaret Marshall Warns about Judges Who Ignore the Law
Fathers Say Her Warning Applies to the Way They Are Treated in Her Courts
By Ed Oliver
Chief Justice Margaret Marshall gave a speech yesterday to the Chamber of
Commerce in Boston that was delivered in the context of the recent
terrorist attacks.
She lectured about the dangers of judges who ignore the law and due
process in a misguided attempt to correct a perceived evil.
The fathers of the state say she should have remembered that last week
when picketers from the Fatherhood Coalition confronted her at the
Courthouse in Salem.
On that day, Justice Marshall and the Supreme Judicial Court traveled to
Salem Superior Court, rather than hold court in Boston as they usually do.
They were greeted by two dozen picketers.
The picketer's message was that Massachusetts courts are conducting a
modern-day witch-hunt against fathers and men in order to stamp out an
illusory epidemic of domestic violence against women. This removes many
children from the guidance and companionship of their fathers.
One sign held by a father read:
Others read:
MassNews interviewed each of the protesters that day. The men complained
that in domestic matters, judges too often ignore due process and the law
where they are concerned.
They said unfair judges and court personnel, who are beholden to gender
politics, treat men as though they are dangerous and evil. They place men
automatically under suspicion as the guilty party. Women, they said, are
automatically assumed by the courts to be victims, despite the evidence.
The fathers said an atmosphere of hysteria about domestic violence has
contributed to the problem.
Is it possible that the fathers managed to get Margaret Marshall to hear
their message, even though she didn't stop to talk to them? Marshall's
assistant later told MassNews she saw some photos from the Salem protest
on the MassNews website, but she did not want to comment any further.
Comparison to Witch Trials
Marshall's speech yesterday contained remarkable parallels to what the
fathers were saying is happening to them. They say they feel like victims
of a judicial witch-hunt.
The Chief Justice said there have been other times in our history when
anxious communities have clamored for the illusion of safety at any price.
Marshall gave an example in her speech yesterday that mirrored what Salem
protestors were trying to tell her is happening to them.
"I hope you will not find it too far-fetched if I look back to some events
that may seem far removed from our present challenges -- events that took
place in Salem 300 years ago," said Marshall.
She related that in 1692, the new governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
returned from London with a new charter from their royal majesties,
William and Mary.
The new charter gave the legislature the sole power of establishing
courts, while the governor had the right to appoint judges.
The governor arrived in the midst of a crisis. Witches were rumored to be
everywhere destroying livestock, tormenting children and stealing souls.
More than 60 people had been charged with practicing witchcraft, which was
a crime.
Determined to eradicate witchcraft, the governor appointed a special court
to hear the charges of witchcraft, even though exclusive power to create a
court rested with the legislature.
"The judges, backed by the legal community and prominent citizens,
including clergy, set about to create the proofs they needed to convince
people that the court could remedy the problem," said Marshall.
"The court began to convict people accused of witchcraft based not only on
confessions -- hard to obtain -- but on whole new categories of evidence
developed to fit a perceived threat.
"The judges created new rules. They ignored rules of evidence long
developed at common law. The first victim, Bridget Bishop, was hanged
within a week of the court's opening term. Little due process there.
Within a matter of months, 19 people had been hanged, the victims of both
public sentiment and what might be termed 'judicial murder.'
"By early fall, 1692, reaction had set in. There was a mood of concern
that a justice system, under the sway of popular opinion, had distorted
the principles of due process of law."
Marshall went on to say that the governor himself had a change of heart,
perhaps precipitated by rumors that his own wife was a witch.
Marshall said the legislature then established a new court of justice, the
Supreme Judicial Court. Of the 56 accused witches remaining in jail, only
three were declared guilty after trial by jury, and they were later
pardoned by the governor.
"What had changed?" asked Marshall. She said not only had popular opinion
changed, but a court separate and distinct from the other branches of
government had been lawfully established -- the Supreme Judicial Court.
"It was not a mere instrument for venting mass anxiety. It was a court
subject to the common law, and governed by long-established procedures to
ascertain the facts reliably."
Marshall then praised the Constitution." It emanates from one bedrock
premise: obedience to the rule of law -- to neutral principles of
justice -- is the cornerstone of all freedom.
"Our Federal Constitution demands that the same rules apply equally to
everyone. It demands that justice be administered fairly and impartially."
Marshall said she turned to the words of Chief Justice of the Israeli
Supreme Court Aharon Barak to help answer the question about whether the
constitutional course is compatible with the broader public security.
According to Marshall, Barak said that judges are guided by fundamental
values, not public opinion, hysteria or transient fashions. Even
terrorists have rights and are to be treated with dignity.
The fathers who greeted the SJC at Salem, who are seen as a threat to
public safety because they are men, say they were crying out for the same
rights and dignities that Margaret Marshall implied are owed, even to
Copyright 2001 Massachusetts News, Inc.
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