It is irresponsible for prominent politicians to threaten members of the judiciary if the ruling is contrary to their desired outcome. Before the conclusion of the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden and Representative Maxine Waters made comments regarding the case. After final arguments, the Jury was sequestered, the defense counsel moved for a mistrial arguing that there was significant external pressure on the court. Judge Cahill did not grant the motion, however stated that the defense would have grounds to argue that point during appeal. While the President’s comment was made with grace and respect for the judiciary, Representative Waters crossed a line in threatening the judiciary. She has the right to express her opinion, but she must be mindful of her words to preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
When President Biden made his comment on the Chauvin trial, it is important to underscore that he never demanded that the jury give a guilty verdict, nor did he call for escalated confrontation. In fact he called for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is.” Biden also said: “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is — I think it’s overwhelming, in my view.” While it was implicitly clear that President Biden wanted a guilty verdict, he never officially endorsed a particular verdict. And, whenever he was asked about the trial, he made clear the need for peace and non-violence. President Biden even said:“I wouldn’t say that unless the — the jury was sequestered now and not hearing me say that.” This clearly demonstrated that Biden was very aware of the impact of his words and chose to make comments on the case only when it couldn’t affect the case. Although the President commented on the trial, he did not encourage violence. He is justified in speaking about the case due to its high-profile nature , and he did so in a manner respectful to the judiciary.
Biden’s comments stand in stark contrast to Representative Waters’ comments:“…and that we are going to get a verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty, and if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know we mean business.”The congresswoman needs to be mindful of her words and make clear that she is not calling for violence. She essentially gave the courts an ultimatum, to either find Derek Chauvin guilty, or face mob consequences. The US Constitution clearly outlines the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Section 2 of Article 3 states: “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity…” How then could a trial be fair and impartial if a politician insists upon a guilty verdict? It is of the utmost importance that elected officials do not pressure the courts for a particular outcome. Her elevated status as a powerful politician, bearing the full weight of her title and office, means that she has the responsibility to give extra consideration to her words. She took an oath to support, defend and bear true allegiance to the Constitution. This is a promise to uphold the legitimacy of and not to interfere with the judicial process. It is also a promise to ensure that all citizens can receive a fair trial, with the presumption of innocence. Her words diminished the sincerity of that solemn pledge and potentially endangered the jurors in the case.
The judge of the Derek Chauvin trial was correct in assessing that due to the high profile status of their court’s case, any comments made by prominent politicians could influence the judgment of the jurors and could be grounds for an appeal by Chauvin. Judge Cahill specifically called out Representative Waters for comments “disrespectful to the rule of law.” For the sake of the verdict’s legitimacy, politicians from both sides should place the principle of respect for the judiciary above their personal opinions, no matter how sensitive the case. The courts are not institutions that can be lobbied or pressured, and a free society would not want them to be. Though it may be difficult to remain impartial, the presumption of innocence is a crucial principle of law, and its application is universal across all criminal cases. One may be tempted to pass judgment before a verdict has been reached, but as the vast majority of people only operate on a fraction of the available information, we must trust in the meticulous judicial process to yield the most objective judgment. To invoke the ancient proverb: “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”