INTERSECTION OF LAW AND POLITICS IN THE TRIAL OF CHICAGO SEVEN
Author: Chirag Malhotra, I year of B.Com.,LL.B from OP Jindal Global University.
“In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative.”
Law and politics are mutually linked ideas, so, they are frequently confused with one another in the public mind.
However, even though the court oversees the law, it is also highly impacted by how the government conducts its affairs. Law encompasses not just the established rules and regulations of a country, but also predetermines political structure for that country. Governmental ability to plan out future policies and how it intends to implement them in order to achieve its aims, which may be for the benefit of the nation or the personal gain of the ruling government, is referred to as politics.
They can both support and hinder the formation of acceptable societal connections, but both unquestionably can assist the citizens of the country by providing justice and order to the country's citizens.
We may see an explicit intrusion of politics in the legal structure of the United States of America in the "Trial of Chicago 7." The first intervention may be observed when America's justice department, widely regarded as the best in the world, proposed the Rap Brown Law, also known as the Anti-Riot Act of 1968, in the US Congress, which was later passed and enacted on
April 11, 1968. This statute "punished anyone who intended to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot." Though the United States considers freedom of speech under the First Amendment to be of the utmost importance, it has enacted these vague statutes in order to prevent the civil rights movement from gaining traction in the country. This statute had never been used to charge anyone before, and the eight defendants namely Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, the leaders of the Youth International Party, David Dellinger, the leader of mobilization to the end the war in Vietnam, Lee Weiner, John Froines. Bobby Seale, eight defendant whose trial was later proved to be a mistrial. This validates the statement made repeatedly by Abbie Hoffman that it was a political trial, and they had been on the government's hit list for a long time. The whole judgement by Judge Hoffman also hints at the influence of politics in the law as it came in after not letting jury listen to the clear cut testimony of the ex-Attorney General, Ramsey Clark.
This film was only a summary of the 147-day trial, which lasted from September 24, 1969, to February 18, 1970. The trial in the film begins with a hint of racism in the American Courtroom, where Bobby Seale, the eighth defendant (later let out due to mistrial), is refused the right to counsel by Judge Hoffman, despite the fact that his lawyer was unable to attend owing to medical concerns. The right to self-representation is one of the highest rights in US federal courts, protected by Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which indicates that the judge could have permitted Bobby Seale to defend himself but did not because of his personal bias. Not just this, the judge also explicitly targeting the leader of the Black Panther party again and again to maybe scare him to not join his colleague in further proceedings. This is an excellent illustration of how racist political figures, such as the former President of the United States, use these statements from people of importance as a shield to achieve their own political goals.
On October 29, 1969, after several warnings to Bobby Seale not to interrupt the courtroom during trial and repeated ignorance of this warning by Bobby Seale, Judge Hoffman went ahead and ordered the marshals in the courtroom to do whatever they do to a person who disobeys the court. Obeying the judge, marshals took Bobby Seale out of the courtroom and brought him in handcuffed to a chair with his mouth taped. Even if it is permissible to continuously disregard the judge or defy the court of contempt charge, it is not ethical or moral to do so. The court had no sympathy for Bobby and continued to make him sit before the jury bound and gagged until counsel from both sides joined together on November 3, 1969, to persuade the obstinate judge to let Bobby free and proclaim his trial a mistrial. Not just this, the Judge who was later proved to be unqualified after the survey let the one of the jury members of the bench without even investigating the threat message sent to her parents. He had done this because he was such a racist that he believed that the leader of Black Panther Party could be the only one to send this type of letter as he was a black.
Even though, the American government considers itself to be the protector of global peace and security, it has long violated international treaties and regulations. During the Vietnam War, US troops violated numerous international laws, including the Article 4 of Geneva Convention, which provides “legal protection to those who find themselves in the hands of a party to a conflict of which they are not the national," and US troops captured many Vietnamese nationals, with numerous reports of ill treatment. In relation to the current situation, when Russia invaded Ukraine and Joe Biden explicitly condemned Vladimir Putin as a war criminal, and Russia was so crippled by sanctions that it could not retaliate in any way. On the other hand, even during the Vietnam War or the Afghanistan war, no country had the fortitude to stand up to a supposedly great nation's flagrant violation of international law. This is a clear junction of politics and law in terms of how a political entity with control over most international bodies can get away with so many violations of international law.
The “Trial of Chicago 7” exemplified how people purposefully end up in court to further their political agendas and gain public support through media attention. Similarly, Abbie Hoffman tried to disrupt the proceedings in order to push a political agenda against Vietnam's cruelty. So, we can possibly conclude after this trial that even though the influence of politics in the legal system is a dangerous pill for the society and these both concepts should be treated separately.
“Any politician who be elected only by turning Americans against Americans in too dangerous to be elected”
~ Thomas Sowell
International Committee of the Red Cross, Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries - Geneva Convention (IV) on Civilians, 1949, https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/INTRO/380 [Accessed 22 April 2022].
Trial of Chicago 7, https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81043755