The Trump Convictions Reveal a Broken Justice System

The use of the courts for political ends is not new, but the Biden administration’s persecution of the pro-life movement and now Donald Trump has further undermined my confidence in a system so vulnerable to the prejudices of practitioners.


June 3, 2024

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The day that the former president was convicted of 34 felonies was the anniversary of the execution of St. Joan of Arc. She had been convicted by the judicial system of her time for an alleged series of crimes even though the reason she was on trial was about politics. Her victories were her real offenses against the system. She paid the price for challenging the powers that be of her time. In the arc of history, her loss was really a victory over her accusers whose machinations made her both a heroine and a saint.

Chesterton was once upbraided for supposedly lacking faith in the judicial system. He remarked that his skepticism had to do with the fact that the founder of his religion had had a bad experience with the legal structures of his time.

The indefatigable Alan Dershowitz would not have the same premise as Chesterton but said that the trial of the ex-president was a disgrace that made the old phrase “banana republic” come to his restless mind. The legal maneuvers of the opponents of President Trump may seem to his opponents the end of his extraordinary political career, but they have only to look at the president of Brazil to know that criminal conviction does not necessarily prevent reelection by the people. It would be hard to imagine two more ideologically diverse politicians than Lula da Silva and Mr. Trump, but the former’s trajectory from, as The New York Times described it, “the presidency to prison and back,” cannot be ruled out as impossible for the latter.

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The celebration of the verdict by political partisans might not be so prolonged. Sir Robert Walpole made a very pithy comment about the conflict between Spain and Great Britain that was later known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. “They may ring their bells now,” said the British Prime Minister, “before long they will be wringing their hands.”

Perhaps it is my pastor’s perspective that makes me think that. I know many persons who have been on the wrong side of the law, both literally and in its working out in personal circumstances. Dickens’ Mr. Bumble (in Oliver Twist), who concluded that “the law was an ass—an idiot” because it presumed a wife was under the control of her husband, would not have a hard time convincing some of my faithful who “caught” cases and then succumbed to the despair involved in plea deals. The law seems to show favorites more frequently than not. 

One of my parishioners explained he had spent two years in prison for a DUI when others get off with lighter sentences and told me that it was because his lawyer was only a “public pretender.” I do not mean to disparage a whole class of professionals by the bon mot, but I have seen for myself the aggressive nature of prosecutors who will do anything to keep their statistics of convictions high and public defenders who have been assigned so many cases that their first acquaintance with their client is in the hallway of the courtroom minutes before a hearing.

While I am not particularly fond of the aphorism that a pastor should have the same odor as his sheep, and despite the fact that I have admired some lawyers and judges I have met, I have a certain skepticism about courts and verdicts, probably a contagion I picked up from some of my faithful. Twice in recent years I have been called to jury duty and have waited around legal bullpens enough to be a bit disenchanted with some glimpses of the men and women handling the ropes and pulleys behind the proverbial wizard’s curtain in the Emerald City of legal pretension.

This is not just personal sympathy. I am no scholar of the law, but judicial decisions often seem to be edicts that are no way near transparently just. Roe v. Wade long ago taught me that judges can be egregiously wrong. The use of the courts for political ends is not new, of course, but the Biden administration’s persecution of the pro-life movement has further undermined my confidence in a system so vulnerable to the prejudices of practitioners. I have always been a bit put off by the metaphor of blindness as characteristic of the working of the vast legal ecosystem. In El Salvador, there is an imposing public statue of a naked lady blindfolded holding the scales of justice, an ambiguous symbol for me, because—well, I really don’t want to go into that right now.

Will the enemies of the once and would-be future president prevail by means of the courts to destroy his candidacy? Is disliking a politician enough reason to endorse a course of action that is so brazenly partisan? The justice system itself can be the victim of “politics as legal soap opera.”  Is disliking a politician enough reason to endorse a course of action that is so brazenly partisan?Tweet This

I am reminded of what Robert Bolt makes Thomas More say in his play A Man for All Seasons about the law not being “an instrument of any kind. The law is a causeway, which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.” In the New York “show trials” of Mr. Trump, we see the instrumentalization of the law for political purposes. No citizen can feel safe walking on a crooked causeway with as many potholes as one of our inner-city thoroughfares.

The day before the verdict in New York, a young man told me that he had passed six months in jail for a crime he did not commit to which he had pled guilty on the advice of his public defender. That man will not likely hold it against Trump that a kangaroo court sided against him and for his political opponents. The Democrats should be aware that they may have gone a bridge too far on their tar and feathering project. Many people have a lingering suspicion that the deck has been stacked against them at various times in their lives, and they can identify with someone who claims the same. I don’t think Mr. Trump will end up canonized like St. Joan, but he might find himself back in the White House, which will be a most painful irony for some.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]


  • Msgr. Richard C. Antall

    Monsignor Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is the author of The X-Mass Files (Atmosphere Press, 2021), and The Wedding (Lambing Press, 2019).

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