You ever know something – or at least in theory know something – and then find that you hadn’t really grasped the enormity of what you knew?
Okay, that may be too vague so let me get to the point.
I have heard a million times that we are a nation of laws but I’m not sure I ever fully appreciated what that meant. Or how important it is. Or at least that it is a VERY BIG DEAL.
Last week I sat in a courtroom for 8 ½ hours. I observed a case brought by Georgia voters, with the help of a non-profit voter advocacy group, challenging the efficacy of our (Georgia) voting machines. Particularly in how it might affect the outcome of our election in the 6th district.
I learned a lot. I learned a lot about cyber security from amazing and articulate expert witnesses. I learned a lot about electronic voting systems in general. And I heard the deep concern of voters that our votes be tabulated correctly and that we be able to verify our votes. Fascinating.
I listened to opposing arguments about current law, the applicability of old law to electronic systems, about the prohibitive cost of providing paper ballots, training for polling officials, and the problem of what the votes of early voters would mean. I heard the plaintiffs (with whom I clearly identify) rebut with ‘least harm’ if going forward the votes were changed to paper.
I watched the Judge listen, ask probing questions, discuss law and precedence, and run a no nonsense courtroom. And then I went home to join a postcard writing party for Jon Ossoff who is running for Tom Price’s old House seat.
That day and every day since I come back to the majesty of what took place in that county Superior Court. An African-American woman judge ruled on motions with an even hand, asked questions that clarified an argument or exposed it as unreasonable, and expedited a timely concern. The attorneys on both sides, women and men, white and people of color, were prepared, reasoned and courteous.
It reminded me of what it means to our nation that we respect opposing views and have ways for those views to be presented fairly, factually, and even-handedly. It reminded me of the notion that, after vigorous and well-reasoned debate, we work together to find a ‘third way’. We forget that finding a third way takes time and struggle but at least that is the ideal we used to strive for.
We all know our political discourse no longer encompasses mutual respect or even facts. As a national community we no longer subscribe to rules of civil political engagement. Facts and reason are optional. Congress, the body that makes law, used its power to overturn structures aimed at keeping our democracy safe. Like overturning the 60 vote majority rule for the election of Supreme Court justices.
Oh the horrors we have seen from Congress, the current Attorney General, and the election of a Supreme Court justice tied to ‘dark money’. But we haven’t lost it all. Go into a county or state courtroom sometime and watch what happens. You may even come to appreciate what seems to be aggravating ‘points of law’ and see the greater context that they serve.
Our courts, the rule of law, and the idea of justice as the cornerstone of this democracy may be what saves us. I thought I knew what it meant that we are a nation of laws. I never truly grasped how imperative it is that our justice system be the messy, sometimes seemingly unreasonable, shining beacon that returns us over and over to sanity.
By the way, we (meaning the side arguing for paper ballots for this election) lost. It doesn’t take away a smatter of how I feel about the procedure, itself. Like blind justice holding her scales aloft, it was magnificent.