And Justice For All? – The History of Bigotry in US Courts

On June 19, 1873, New York Circuit Court Judge Ward Hunt presided over a trial which revealed his character.  The trial concerned the actions of Susan B. Anthony, who was accused of voting illegally, due to her gender.  Judge Hunt stated Ms. Anthony had been tried according to the forms of law and his decision had been rendered by law.  In truth, Judge Hunt didn’t allow Ms. Anthony to testify, ordered the jury to find a verdict of guilty, didn’t poll the jury as to their findings, and read a verdict he wrote before the trial even started.  Ms. Anthony’s trial was a complete farce.  She was the victim of judicial sexist bigotry, a common occurrence during the women’s suffrage movement.  

But is anti-woman sexism the only form of bigotry US Courts have practiced? 

Further investigation reveals the events of August 1955, when 14 year old Emmett Till traveled to Mississippi to visit relatives.

He would never return.

An African American boy from Chicago, Till didn't understand the “culture” of Mississippi when he spoke to a white, female store clerk.  Later that evening, the clerk’s husband, Roy Bryant, and her brother in law, J.W. Milam, took the boy from his bed and brutally tortured and murdered him.  

Before the ensuing trail, Sheriff H.C. Strider announced the intention of the officers of the law was to give “a fair and impartial trial”, further stating they neither needed nor wanted the help of the NAACP.  This 31 second video of Sheriff Strider foreshadows the exact nature of the “fair and impartial trial” they intended.  

 After listening to the Sheriff’s beliefs, you likely already know, it took but one hour for the jury to deliver a not guilty verdict.  If this farce of a trail weren't bad enough, a few months later, the accused, now protected by "double jeopardy" were paid $4,000 for interviewing with reporter William Bradford Huie and admitted to torturing and killing the boy

The African American Civil Rights Movement is literally full of examples of judicial racism, another common form of bigotry throughout the history of US Courts.

One cannot compare the level of injustice suffered by Ms. Anthony to Mr. Till or the overall injustice suffered by the Suffragettes to that of the African American community.  Such comparisons, no matter the two groups involved, would be invalid.  However, the examples do show bigotry has been a mainstay in the history of US courts.      

Certainly, bigotry is a learned trait.  No two babies are born hating one another, but as we grow and are exposed both to others and most importantly, our culture, various forms of bigotry are instilled.  Historically, humans have decided to hate each other for differing color, race, sex, religion, creed, or any other grouping into which people can be classified.  But history has also shown there is one form of bigotry which is worse than all the others: state sponsored bigotry, where a government practices bigotry against its own citizens.   

With such extreme examples of bigotry evident throughout the history of US Courts, it’s fair to ask what safeguards have been enacted to ensure such practices aren’t continued.  Initiating this review, certainly requires examining the complaints made against, and the results generated by, US Probate & Family Courts. 

Highest amongst the complaints leveled against Family Courts is they are sexist (bigoted) in child custody determinations.  While I’m extraordinarily confident good mothers are also alienated by the Court, a significant majority of sexist claims come from fathers, who have been all but removed from their children’s lives.  Like Susan B. Anthony, they claim they’ve been victimized by sexist bigotry throughout the judicial process.   

Clearly, an allegation of judicial bigotry is a very serious charge, and should require a significant level of validated evidence.  So what do the results say?

Contrary to the many lawyers who state “shared parenting is the norm”, the US Census shows fathers comprised just 18.3% of “custodial” parents.  Further, a recent 10 year study in Nebraska found children received an average of 5 days a month of visitation with what the court determined to be their non-parent.  In Massachusetts, an examination of the number and gender of those incarcerated by each county division of the Family Court found at least 96.2% of those incarcerated were male.  The most one sided results came from Franklin County, who incarcerated only one gender for an entire decade.  In an attempt to down play this finding, one influential Massachusetts Senator stated “all this shows is that we give custody to women.”  Senator, not in some time have I seen both so much right and so much wrong in the same sentence.   

The distribution of the Massachusetts findings was addressed to the House Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, who had no response.  However, in his law firm bio, Rep. O’Flaherty pledged his loyalties, stating since becoming Chair of the Judiciary Committee he “has been a staunch advocate for the legal community since he was first appointed in 2002.”  Strangely, some considered his responsibility was to advocate for the people, rather than the legal community.        

Is a decade of arresting solely one gender and a decade of only allowing children 5 days a month visitation with their non-parent enough evidence to require further investigation?  If not, what about the voices of those who work in the Courts? 

While there remain too many attorneys who place their financial interests ahead of what’s best for children, a growing number of socially moral attorneys are calling for Shared ParentingCici Van Tine, a Partner of Burns & Levinson, was directly asked “Do you think fathers are at a disadvantage overall in Family Court?”  Attorney Van Tine showed both her courage and her character in this 15 second answer.  

Isn't an admission that any grouping of people are at a “disadvantage overall” in a Court presided over only by a Judge, an overwhelming indication of judicial bigotry? 

But perhaps the strongest indication of state sponsored bigotry comes when citizens are scared to speak out against their government.  Such fear existed for the Suffragettes, for African Americans, and for every significant social movement in US history.  Please know, I have been told ad nauseam that I will face “judicial retribution” for my research and accurate reporting on the results of the modern day Family Court. 

That’s not “honorable”… that’s tyranny.

Terry Brennan

Cc:          Chief Justice Angela M. Ordonez (Massachusetts Probate & Family Court)

               Chief Justice Paula M. Carey (Massachusetts Trial Court)