DOJ revisions omit protections for minority voters’ rights, free press and more
By Brandianne Hinton
In November, the U. S. Department of Justice began overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors, something that hasn’t happened on such a large scale since 1997. Included in the updates are changes to policies regarding protection of minority voters in redistricting efforts, procedures involving agents of media – the need for free press and public trial – and protections regarding prosecutorial overreach.
If citizens are not yet alarmed, we should be, especially in Texas, as these policy changes affect regulations for prosecuting intentionally discriminatory congressional redistricting, something the Supreme Court of the United States is currently reviewing for the state. In the updated manual, sections regarding racial gerrymandering have been omitted, which leaves minority voters unprotected from discrimination based on poorly drawn and nonsensical congressional district lines, effectively silencing minority citizens’ voices.
Here’s a big surprise. The current White House administration supports the most recently gerrymandered district maps in Texas, those that are racially biased, while the previous administration did not. Sadly, even the maps currently in use, which were temporarily adopted in 2013 because the 2011 maps were deemed discriminatory by the Texas courts are also in violation of the rules for redistricting, and currently awaiting a decision by SCOTUS whether or not to agree with the lower court’s ruling or go with the current maps. Either way, new maps will be drawn after the 2020 census, but the question is, given Texas’ long history of discriminatory gerrymandering, whether or not the maps will be drawn, once again, under federal oversight. This is where the DOJ comes into the equation. With the prosecution manual updates excluding sections on racial gerrymandering, the DOJ makes it clear that no matter what the SCOTUS decides about Texas’ (and other states) redistricting problems, their policy will be to support racial gerrymandering by default.
One would think that update alone would be enough of a red flag in the DOJ, but there’s more. The manual overhaul has also deleted a sentence that offers protection against prosecution for the free press, a key element in our democracy, and a public trial.
“Likewise, careful weight must be given in each case to the constitutional requirements of a free press and public trials as well as the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused.”
Why would our DOJ omit such a sentence? Shouldn’t Constitutional requirements be considered when mounting a case? Are federal prosecutors no longer going to consider our Constitutional requirements regarding our rights of a free press and public trial? Better still, are we no longer going to have access to information regarding the conduct of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and court officials? How does that work exactly? Does this mean they are now considered above the law?
On top of those omissions, the DOJ has also eliminated language concerning the restrictions on excessive charges being filed against a person or persons, as well as prosecutors being required to enter into plea deals with those who maintain their innocence of charges. Can you say prosecutorial overreach? In essence, this is the adoption of an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent,” the exact opposite message of what our justice system is designed to convey.
So, with the idea that the public will no longer be guaranteed access to information on investigations, law enforcement officers and prosecutors’ conduct within an investigation, hindering the ability to have a “public trial,” and we’ve got a recipe for disaster in the name of corruption in our courts, rivaling only that of the current WH administration. Not convinced, yet?
Okay. Pile on top of that the new language that reinforces the idea of prosecuting whistleblowers. Of course, it is illegal for anyone to share classified information. We all know that. However, if sharing such information is vital to the citizenry, there must be an out for a person of conscience to do so. Instead, there is a warning, a soft one, but a warning nonetheless, not to do so unless a person wants to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
For some reason, the captain’s famous speech from Cool Hand Luke keeps running through my mind in a loop.
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men, you just can’t reach. So, you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And, I don’t like it any more than you men.”