Thanks in large part to Republican political tactics, courts were already losing legitimacy for millions of Americans before a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on Friday. Progressives are now afraid that President Joe Biden will not even see the problem.
Biden’s instinctive claim that the jury system works more has convinced progressive skeptics that the president simply does not recognize the magnitude of the problems plaguing our courts.
Rittenhouse will incur no punishment despite shooting three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, ultimately killing two. Rittenhouse filed a self-defense request for each shootout, arguing he suffered repeated physical attacks from protesters who left him in fear for his life that day in August 2020.
For critics on the left and right, Rittenhouse’s acquittal offered further proof of the legal deference shown to white men’s self-defense claims, even leading conservative scholar Charlie Sykes to assert, “If Kyle was black, he would be dead.
Still, Biden, asked for his reaction to the news, immediately affirmed the judicial status quo. “I stand by what the jury concluded,” he told reporters outside the White House shortly after Judge Bruce Schroeder adjourned the session. “The jury system works. “
Is that done? While the progressive left may be the strongest voice condemning Rittenhouse’s verdict, it is not the only one. Our country has become increasingly skeptical of the judiciary, with just 54% of Americans claiming high or fair confidence in our federal courts, up from 67% just a year ago. The Supreme Court is experiencing a historic loss of confidence, with just 40 percent of Americans supporting the High Court – the lowest number in Gallup polls history. And your trust in juries varies widely depending on your race: in 2008, a Harris Interactive poll found that more than two-thirds of whites trusted the inherent fairness of juries, compared with just over a third. blacks.
While Biden is reassuring in the wake of the verdict, many prominent Democrats have instead spoken about the unfairness of what happened and the problems inherent in a process designed to disadvantage non-white Americans.
In a tweet, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York condemned “a system that works as intended and protects those for whom it was designed,” adding, “My heart still breaks for communities … which will be denied and deprived in similar scenes Across the country. “And in a press release posted on twitter On Friday evening, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, “There are two justice systems in America” and “it is time to dismantle systemic racism and fundamentally transform our failing justice system.”
In attempting to bolster the legitimacy of the verdict and the judiciary, Biden’s reflex that the jury system works has further convinced progressive skeptics that the president simply does not recognize the scale of the problems plaguing our courts. And after ruthlessly removing key left-wing priorities like criminal justice reform from its legislative agenda over the summer, progressives fear Biden is prepared to treat Rittenhouse’s verdict with gloves if it means s ‘move away from a polarizing political struggle.
The fact that Rittenhouse became a right-wing political celebrity immediately after the shooting convinced many Democrats that the fix was in place even before the trial began. Republican Fox News pundits spent the months following Rittenhouse’s arrest hailing him as a peacekeeper. The Trump administration has even ordered officials to portray Rittenhouse in a nicer light. Prominent Republican lawmakers, including far-right representative Matt Gaetz, have openly questioned the legitimacy of any trial that ended with a jury finding Rittenhouse guilty.
For Americans on the political left, Rittenhouse’s acquittal quickly became another example of how the presumption of innocence, accorded so vigorously to Rittenhouse in the right-wing media, often remains out of reach for black Americans and browns.
“I Knew It”, is how journalist and author Keith Boykin Put the. “Kyle Rittenhouse is proof that white people can still break the law, carry illegal guns, shoot and kill people, and get away in America shedding tears and defending themselves.”
Rittenhouse’s acquittal comes amid broader Democratic concerns that the judiciary at the highest level has been hopelessly captured by former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s aggressive push to fill the federal bench of far-right Republican jurists. That skepticism is reinforced by a flood of harsh legal violations for the Biden administration, including a recent decision by the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to block Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine requirement for big business.
Institutions caught in credibility spirals can sometimes be saved when a respected and legitimate figure across the political spectrum stands up and restores American confidence in our officials and our process. As Republican lawmakers vie to offer an internship at the newly free Rittenhouse, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler calls on the Justice Department to consider possible federal charges, it is unlikely that such a unifying American figure exists.
Progressives may be excited about the Rittenhouse verdict and the serious legitimacy issues facing an increasingly politicized justice system, but it will take at least a generation to deal with America’s legal crisis. Public trust is hard to earn but easy to waste, and life appointments only prolong the process of replacing judges whose commitment to political parties on the law is eating away at the entire judiciary.
Fixing our failing justice system is not only popular among Democrats. But for that to happen, it must be recognized that the problem runs deeper than a questionable verdict in a single case. If Biden is to unite his party and Americans behind a laudable fight, he will have to recognize that few people trust our justice system to deliver real justice.