MA Chief Justice Had to Be Thinking 'Trump!' When He Wrote this Speech

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On February 15, Ralph D. Gants, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center to deliver what he called “a very brief secular sermon” at the conclusion of the mosque’s midday prayer service.  This was the fourth consecutive year that Justice Gants made such a visit and gave such an address.

“I come each year because it is the clearest way I know how to communicate the continued commitment of the judiciary to protect your constitutional rights, and the rights of every resident in this Commonwealth, citizen and non-citizen, regardless of religion, skin color, or national origin,” Gants said
Passionately, he continued as follows:

“I want to speak to you today about the constitution of a powerful nation -- a constitution that guarantees the rights of all citizens, regardless of nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, cultural, social, and political life; guarantees freedom of religious worship and freedom from anti-religious propaganda; and guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
“The constitution I have described is the constitution of the former Soviet Union, established in 1936 under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party. All of you who know your history know that this constitution was a travesty, a litany of empty promises; all of those guarantees meant nothing to a repressive state that routinely violated each of those rights. 

“I speak of the Soviet constitution to prove a point: without an independent judiciary that has the authority and the courage to speak truth to power and to ensure the rule of law, constitutional rights are merely words on paper. The freedoms all of us enjoy that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution depend on the authority of our judiciary to uphold those freedoms and, when it is necessary, to declare laws and government conduct unconstitutional.
“And they depend on the expectation that those rulings will be obeyed. 

“So, when you hear those in power attempt to intimidate judges in the hope of influencing their decisions, or seek to remove judges for decisions they do not like, or discuss the possibility of ignoring court orders, what is threatened is not only the independence of the judiciary. What is threatened is the rule of law itself, and all of the rights granted by those laws.”
Gants did not identify the person (or persons) he was referring to when speaking of “those in power” who “attempt to intimidate judges…”

Judge-bashing is not an isolated phenomenon these days – think of how the entire West Virginia Supreme Court was recently impeached by a vote of that state’s legislature – but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone other than Donald Trump was uppermost in Gants’s mind at that moment.
This past November, our president, in perhaps his most fearsome attack on the judiciary to date, raged against the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit -- calling it “a disgrace” -- because the court had dared to order his administration to resume processing claims for asylum from migrants, regardless of how they entered the country. 

Trump complained that the particular judge who authored the ruling, Jon S. Tigar, was “an Obama judge,” eliciting an unusual public reaction from John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, shortly thereafter. Roberts put out a statement rebuking Trump and defending Tigar.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Justice Roberts said.  “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.  That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Our president, thankful only when circumstances evolve to his personal benefit, gives oath-taking a bad name.  He swore to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.  It has not occurred to him that defending means respecting -- even standing up for – the duly appointed and confirmed experts who interpret that precious document.
To use a favorite Trump word: Sad.

FOOTNOTE: Gants may be a Democrat but any fair observer would be hard-pressed to stick a political label on him.  He was first appointed to the Superior Court by Republican Gov. William Weld in 1997.  Democrat Deval Patrick named him an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 2009, and then promoted him to Chief Justice upon the retirement of Roderick Ireland in 2014.   

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