“Equal Justice Under Law” is the national motto engraved in marble over the U.S. Supreme Court House in Washington, D.C. It represents a promise to the American people by our nation’s judiciary system to uniformly apply our laws to all citizens regardless of their social status or income. Unfortunately, this is not being done. America has two legal systems: one for the haves and one for the have-nots.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all citizens have a right to “meaningful access” to the courts, meaning we can be heard, that our legal issues addressed in a fair and timely manner, that we can defend ourselves in the federal courts — particularly from our own government. Yet this is not happening for most Americans because of another U.S. Supreme Court ruling: Jones v. Barnes.
Jones v. Barnes grants our lawyers the power to decide on their clients behalf all “tactical” and “strategic” decisions, regardless of how their clients feel, regardless of the wishes — or even demand — of their clients. Our lawyers can pick and choose which issues to object to and argue and which to ignore. The problem is that with any issues ignored by the attorney, the government wins by default under the court’s “implied consent” rules — even if the ignored issue would have set the citizen free, even if the government was legally in the wrong. This makes our lawyers our masters despite the Bill of Rights’ promise of “assistance of counsel.”
Furthermore, our federal courts are refusing to allow citizens direct access to the court to defend themselves when their lawyer chooses to ignore crucial issues. The federal courts state that their “access” may only be through their attorneys — the same attorneys who are ignoring their wishes. This leaves our citizenry without a voice in court — they are effectively being silenced.
Have-nots do not have the funds to buy their lawyers’ cooperation in these matters, unlike the haves, who can throw money at the lawyer until they comply. This creates a two-tiered legal system: one for the haves and one for the have-nots. So much for equal justice under the law.
— Floyd E. Harshman
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