By Nerissa Young
Constitution Day was Tuesday. The official celebration at Montpelier, James Madison’s home, is today. It’s good to pause at least once a year and consider this grand experiment in human governance.
America was formed from the Madisonian and Jeffersonian tension of a strong central government versus individual rights. Their compromise was the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments that provided the momentum for colonists to approve the Constitution.
Examples of how the American system of government doesn’t work are rampant. A democracy isn’t perfect because the humans who have charge of it aren’t perfect.
But a human being’s best chance to be treated as a human being regardless of other factors is in a democracy. It is this person’s opinion that the American version is the best — with all its faults.
So imagine for the next few lines what would happen in just one part of American society without the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Fifth Amendment rights to a trial by an impartial jury and due process. Imagine no rule of law, only what the monarch of England decrees.
JUDGE: Does the defendant wish to plead guilty and end this drama?
DEFENDANT: No, your honor, I want a trial.
JUDGE: I’m not really in the mood to give you one. I have a fishing trip coming up. Then, I’m going to see my in-laws. You should just plead guilty and end this drama.
DEFENDANT: No, I want my day in court. I want the public to hear the evidence against me.
JUDGE: What did you say?
DEFENDANT: I want my day in court so the public can hear the evidence.
JUDGE: I’m sorry; you are misinformed. There are no public trials in the king’s courts. You have me. If I decide you’re guilty, I send you to jail.
DEFENDANT: Well, I’m not going to plead guilty.
JUDGE: Then you can just sit in jail until you decide to.
PROSECUTOR: Your honor, there’s no need for a trial or a guilty plea. I heard from a friend of a friend that he did it. That’s enough for me.
JUDGE: A friend of a friend? Really?
PROSECUTOR: Yes. And Susie over at the beauty shop confirmed it to my wife when she was getting her hair done.
DEFENDANT: Hey! I’m supposed to be able to confront the witnesses against me and ask them questions.
PROSECUTOR LAUGHS: Your honor, I think the defendant is drunk. He doesn’t understand how the king’s courts operate.
DEFENDANT: I’m not drunk, but I don’t understand all this. I need a lawyer, but I’m too poor to afford one.
JUDGE: Tough toenails. The king cut our budget this year. Nobody’s getting free legal help this year. Besides, the prosecutor has it on authority of a friend of a friend AND Susie over at the beauty shop that you did it.
DEFENDANT: But they’re not here. They’re not on the jury.
PROSECUTOR: I’ll gladly put them on the jury.
DEFENDANT: But they’re prejudiced against me. They already think I did it.
PROSECUTOR: But you DID do it.
DEFENDANT: Did what?
JUDGE: You mean nobody told you what you’re accused of?
JUDGE: That’s for us to know and for you to find out. This is the king’s court. We don’t have to tell you if we don’t want to.
PROSECUTOR: It doesn’t matter. You’ll end up confessing anyway.
DEFENDANT: No, I won’t.
PROSECUTOR: Yes, you will. Everybody does … eventually.
JUDGE: I need a guard in here to put this defendant in the dungeon until he’s ready to confess or I catch my limit of small-mouth bass. Court is adjourned.
— Young is a Register-Herald columnist.
© 2013 by Nerissa Young