Justice system serves as safeguard for democracy

By Clay Parham | Guest Columnist

The latest round of indictments against President Donald Trump’s inner circle has brought forth an onslaught of criticism directed toward the United States Justice Department from our sitting president.

We should do everything we can to make sure the judicial branch of our government remains strong.

The president’s attacks on the Justice Department sets a dangerous precedent in American politics. Past scandal-ridden presidencies have remained distant from investigations. Admittedly, President Bill Clinton was unable to fire then special counsel Ken Starr due to a Watergate-Era Act titled the Ethics in Government Act. This act expired in 1999, and Trump has not been hesitant in hinting his desire to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. However, Trump has not kept his attacks solely directed at Mueller, and since before the election he has constantly criticized the justice system. Actions like these seem to be a concerted effort by the president to undermine the justice system.

The strength of a country’s democracy is based on the strength of its justice system. The United States has always had a powerful justice system, and the strength and stability of the courts has kept us from succumbing to the whims of politicians. Without a strong and independent judiciary, an authoritarian could easily undermine our democracy. Therefore, efforts to weaken our courts need to be considered not just as attacks on our judiciary, but also as attacks on our democracy.

An undermined judiciary not freely able to keep politicians accountable is not the only worry. A fully subverted judiciary also gives legitimacy to acts that destroy our democracy. An undermined judiciary in the Weimar Republic, through decades of subversion by fascist groups in Germany, gave Hitler the legitimacy he needed to enact his reforms in the 1930s. Additionally, from Cuba to North Korea, weakened and puppeted court systems in fledgling dictatorships around the world have been used to justify the imprisonment and execution of political prisoners.

Fortunately, there is some good news. Gallup reports that 68 percent of Americans in 2017 were confident in our court system, up from 61 percent in 2016, and several Republicans have taken efforts to allow Mueller to work until the conclusion of his investigation. Even our Supreme Court, often criticized for its appearance of partisanship, has remained remarkably centrist in the last 15 years. However, we must still consciously work to keep our judiciary strong.

How can we best do that? First, your voice is most clearly heard in how you vote. Supporting candidates that advance your interests while respecting the judiciary is important. Secondly, remain vigilant in recognizing rhetoric that tries to undermine our court system. Lies about judicial decisions, when taken at face value, benefit those who stand to lose because of a strong justice system. And finally, remind your elected representatives that a strong judiciary benefits us all.

We must diligently work to keep our judiciary strong so that our democracy is strong.

Clay is a senior international studies major from Austin.