THE DEMAGOGUE OF JUSTICE
“Authoritarianism exists when the people fright the government,
and liberty exists when the government frights the people.
And the judiciary is that weapon with people to make this happen.”
Law and politics are intrinsically tied. Law is critical for a government’s policy since it is an instrument by which the government aims to control the society. The appointment of judges by political coercion is one of the many flaws that are present in the world of law. Where we see the judiciary as the last resort and the most formidable force of our democracy, it is nevertheless unconsciously and consciously skewed in favour of the wealthy and those who are more privileged than the legislative or executive branches of government (Whittington, Kelemen and Caldeira 2013). Various cases from our history can be seen and taken, such as the case of Jessica Lal's death, in which the ruling parties were freed and no evidence was found against them (Sengupta 2006). The objectives of this paper are to examine how the law is such a prized commodity in politics, and how it influences the way politics is practised, by using diegesis of diverse narratives to understand this.
Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed this historical courtroom thriller named “The Trial of the Chicago 7”. It is a slice based on an actual trial from 1969 in the United States, depicting the trial of eight anti-war demonstrators illustrating various streams of the decade's anti-war movement. Federal prosecutors accused them of collusion and crossing state lines with the intent to incite protests. It was a political trial unlike any other in history, influenced by politicians like John Mitchell, in which the state's counsel attempted to play dirty, witnesses were killed, testimonies were tampered, judges were corrupted, and the access to vital facts was refused to a jury. The Vietnam War, Black Radicalization, Structural Racism, Counterculture Revolution, and Resentment Toward Democrats are the five major historical layers in the film. The plot takes place at a time when there is a lot of instability in the country. Martin Luther King was murdered just a few weeks ago. A similar fate befell Robert or 'Bobby' Kennedy. Across the nation, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations had sparked supporters. The counterculture has an effect that can be seen almost anywhere. Public faith in the legal structure was shaken by this trial.
Taking another movie in reference that is "To Kill a Mockingbird" a time capsule, and another brilliant trial and political event in American history, retaining the expectations and hopes of a gentler, more naive America. This movie is Produced by Alan J. Pakula and was launched in December 1962, the final month of the final year of post-war complacency. John F. Kennedy would be murdered the next November. Nothing would ever be the same following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, the Vietnam War, and, most notably, September 11, 2001. It was set in Maycomb, Alabama, in 1932, the time of the civil rights revolution and it mostly uses the facts of the moment as a background for a portrait of a courageous white democrat. In the trial, there is a lack of emotion as a virtuous black man was accused of a murder that never existed, he was prosecuted by a white jury through irrefutable evidence, and was shot and killed in uncertain circumstances. It was a battle of ideologies versus the judiciary and was politically affected by the agenda against the black and one can establish a comparison by comparing the plots of both the events in these two movies.
They can doubtlessly be compared on the grounds of “racism” as racial underpinning is quite evident. In To Kill a Mockingbird a thunderbolt slams into the tranquil silence when the town judge asked Atticus to represent Tom Robinson, a black man convicted of raping a poor white young lady named Mayella Violet Ewell. Mayelle's father Bob fabricated an ominous call on Atticus, implicitly intimidating his daughter since white sentiment is strongly against the black man, who is believed to be guilty. Many attorneys may not have bothered to defend Tom in this manner, but Atticus Finch was a white man who defended the Negro. Even in the movie, the black people in the sequence are portrayed as props rather than characters and are retained for long shots. The white hero and villain received more close-ups. Even the film The Trial of the Chicago 7, the wider social discourse is on the country's deep-seated institutional inequality towards blacks, which is highlighted by Judge Julius Hoffman's overt racial profiling and bigotry towards Bobby Seale. Bobby was subsequently removed from the courtroom by Judge Hoffman, who also charged him with 16 counts of contempt leading “Chicago eight” to become “Chicago seven”. Seale had only been in Chicago for a short time after the protests, but he was still charged with conspiring to provoke riots. The judge repeatedly forbids him the freedom to testify in court, and Seale's harsh abuse, which included being tortured, handcuffed, and gagged, exemplifies the racist nature of American courts in the 1960s towards blacks. Not just that, but a jury member who had a James Baldwin book was excluded from the court. The assassination of Fred Hampton, a socialist leader who led the Panther's Illinois branch, is a crucial scene in the film, throwing Seale off balance in the courtroom. All these incidents were a clear depiction of the presence of racism in the social as well as a political core of the American society of that time.
There have been many stances of “police brutality” in both the movies as well. Any (white) listener may have believed that Tom Robinson was killed inadvertently while attempting to flee in 1962, but those stories are met with scepticism nowadays. Moreover, when the trial was going on, Fred Hampton, the vice-chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party at the time of the protests, was killed by police brutality. Their political philosophy is described by scenes of cops removing their identification badges before beating up on people and police inciting the riot. Still today, two big demonstrations have brought attention to police brutality: the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) movement in India and the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, where state violence-hit alarming heights (Lokaneeta 2021) (Kramer, Remster and Charles 2017).
The way black people were perceived by the “judiciary and the justice system” during that period was one of the toughest facets of life for them. This is what Harper Lee made a point of emphasizing in To Kill a Mockingbird. Regrettably, it was all too normal for black citizens to be convicted of offenses for which they were not accountable. This trial seems to be meant as a critique of the justice system, as the all-white jury does not view the facts according to the statute, and instead rely on its own biases to evaluate the case's outcome. The jury trial against Tom Robinson exemplifies the law's limits and prompts the audience to rethink the significance of the term "reasonable." The Trial of Chicago 7 exemplifies the catastrophe that can result when a Court of Justice functions as a hollow Court of Power. A statement made by Abbie Hoffman that is “We are not going to jail for what we did. We are going to jail for who we are" (The Trial of Chicago 7, Abbie Hoffman, 25 September 2020) is self-explanatory to exemplify the judiciary’s and the legal systems biased nature. Clark was not allowed to testify in front of the jury about Hoffman's decision not to try the prosecution. He also turned down a motion from the defence to subpoena President Johnson. He frequently permitted proof that strengthened the prosecution while rejecting evidence that may have helped the defendant. This demonstrates the biased nature and flaws in both films' justice systems.
Such instances are an eye-opener for a society, where the government, influential politicians and corporate leaders are embroiled in legislation in day-to-day life but are convicted by the judge and spared all by liability. There is ample evidence of strain on judicial bodies where the judiciary is seen to be partial and the lady holding the scale in blind- which stands for un-biasness- is nothing but a mockery to all who believe in ‘Justice and Judiciary’. Even in the history of the Indian judiciary, there have been instances where the government and major political leaders have influenced court rulings and appeared to suppress the philosophy of justice and equality on which Indian judiciary is established, such as the BJP government's Rafale deal or the Congress's INX scandal, or even the most well-known case of Jessica Lal's murder (Gupta 2018) (Sengupta 2006) ("INX Scandal: Why The Supreme Court Decided To Give Chidambaram Bail In The ED's Case" 2019). Sorkin, who is renowned for his dialogue-heavy dramas, has fictionalized real-life events to demonstrate how a spiteful government and a crooked structure in the United States dealt with opposition. These films are well able to glorify and depict these facts and problems of over-indulgence of politics in Law. This raises political and judicial consciousness which is the need of the hour.
Gupta, Shekhar. 2018. "There’s A Humongous Scam in The Rafale Deal. It Is Called Stupidity". Theprint.https://theprint.in/national-interest/scam-in-rafale-deal-is-stupidity/118540/.
"INX Scandal: Why the Supreme Court Decided to Give Chidambaram Bail in The ED's Case". 2021. The Wire. https://thewire.in/law/inx-media-chidambaram-bail-supreme-court.
Kramer, Rory, Brianna Remster, and Camille Z. Charles. 2017. "Black Lives and Police Tactics Matter". Contexts 16 (3): 20-25. doi:10.1177/1536504217732048.
Lokaneeta, Jinee. 2021. "Anti-CAA Protests Reveal Torture Remains at The Heart Of Indian Policing". The Wire. https://thewire.in/rights/anti-caa-protests-reveal-torture-remains-at-the-heart-of-indian-policing.
Sengupta, Somini. 2006. "Acquittal in Killing Unleashes Ire at India's Rich (Published 2006)". Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/13/world/asia/acquittal-in-killing-unleashes-ire-at-indias-rich.html.
The Trial of Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin, 2020.
Whittington, Keith E., R. Daniel Kelemen, and Gregory A. Caldeira. 2013. "Overview of Law and Politics the Study of Law and Politics". Oxford Handbook. http://10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199604456.013.0012.
Cover Image: Tingey Injury Law Firm
About the author: Diksha Mittal is a Bachelor of Law student at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, India. Her enthusiasm flows towards Legal Research and Legal Writing