House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and several other GOP leaders are insisting that the United States Department of Justice is treating former President Donald Trump unfairly. Since Trump announced that he’d been indicted on 37 felony counts, his loyalists and fellow political party members have repeatedly called for equal justice under the law – in those exact words. In a video posted to Twitter, McCarthy said, “In America, some of our greatest strength is equal justice, and today it shows that it is not.” DeSantis invoked the founding fathers in a speech in North Carolina as he slammed the DOJ’s “weaponization” of its power to bring criminal charges against Trump.
In response to persistent, pervasive, and well-documented racial inequities in our nation’s judicial system, Black Americans have long called for equal justice under the law, a right that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution supposedly guarantees every citizen. Not many Republicans have stood alongside understandably frustrated Black people in dismantling structural and systemic racism in the judicial system. Few have been willing to even acknowledge that various legal actors – judges, prosecutors, and jurors – treat Black persons prejudicially and otherwise unfairly in legal proceedings. But now, suddenly, they’re casting doubt on the integrity of the DOJ, our nation’s top law enforcement agency.
When civil rights leaders, activists, researchers, and everyday Americans call attention to the ways in which Black Americans are stopped and ticketed more often for alleged traffic violations, racially profiled by police officers, sentenced more harshly in courtrooms, and so on, conservatives typically respond in three ways. First, they remain silent and do nothing. Second, they minimize and oftentimes flat out deny the role that racism plays in the cyclical reproduction of racially disparate legal outcomes. And third, they insist that justice is blind and therefore urge Americans to trust the integrity of our nation’s judicial processes. GOP leaders aren’t responding in these ways as it pertains to the legal system’s treatment of Trump, a white man against whom the DOJ says it has substantial amounts of criminal evidence.
The overwhelming majority of GOP leaders who’ve posted to their social media accounts or appeared on cable news shows since Trump’s federal indictment, have been white. That’s unsurprising, given the demographics of the party’s elected officials. According to data in the June 2023 Congressional Research Service demographics report, 88% of Republicans who currently serve in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are white. The Rutgers University Eagleton Center on the American Governor notes that 46 of our nation’s governors are white; only two of the 26 Republican governors are people of color. Hence, it makes sense that most GOP leaders who’ve spoken out against the DOJ in recent days are white.
Congresspersons, governors, and other elected officials – regardless of their race – are supposed to represent all their constituents, including Black people. When there’s a miscarriage of justice against anyone (including, but not limited to a Black citizen), these leaders have a responsibility to use their platforms and political power to call attention to it, immediately address it, and pursue systemic policy remedies to ensure it never happens again.
As it pertains to clear instances of unequal justice under the law, Black constituents haven’t benefitted from the outrage that many GOP leaders are expressing about the DOJ’s indictment of Trump. Innocent Black Americans not only deserve this level of judicial advocacy from elected officials across all levels and within every political party, but the racial inequities that systematically occur in legal proceedings and recurrently ruin Black people’s lives also warrant massive levels of reform.
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