As Judge Sonia Sotomayor presents herself before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, during what seems to be a very positive confirmation hearing, it’s important for all of us to fully understand the significance of having such a diverse and well-rounded person on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Traditionally, the Supreme Court has a reputation of being ultra conservative…much of that can be attributed to the appointments made by former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Such conservatism isn’t representative of the America that we live in today, nor is it reflective of the views so many of us hope for in the future.
With only nine members, the Supreme Court is a mighty force that determines the way in which our lives will be governed; from our basic freedom, to the fair and equal treatment of women and other minorities.
If Sotomayor is appointed to the high court, I’m confident that she’ll not only be fair in her decision-making policies, but her presence will also hold other justices to a higher degree of accountability. Such accountability will be needed when the Supreme Court reconvenes in September – especially regarding the case of Troy Davis.
Davis is a Black man who has been serving time on Georgia’s death row for the past 18 years for allegedly killing white police officer, Mark Allen MacPhail. The problem is that no evidence or DNA were ever produced that linked Davis to the crime. In addition, seven of the nine witnesses recanted their eyewitness testimony. One woman said she was forced to sign a statement swearing to Davis’ guilt even though she couldn’t read; another lady later told authorities she was on parole and the detective in the case said he’d “help her” if she said Davis was the shooter. One male witness noted that he falsely accused Davis of committing the crime because he was pressured by police saying, “They (the police) made it clear the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear.”
Because Davis has appealed his case the maximum number of times allowed in the state of Georgia, it’s lawful for federal and Georgia appeals judges to refuse hearing a new trial.
While I understand that policies have to be put in place in order to save taxpayers money as well as institute some sort of order within the penal system, a technicality shouldn’t prohibit a potentially innocent man from getting a new trial.
Davis isn’t some Joe Blow inmate who is proclaiming he’s innocent, when in all actuality he’s guilty. As a matter of fact, several notable figures from around the world have showed support for Davis including, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI Director William Sessions, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, former and current U.S. lawmakers Bob Barr, Carol Moseley Braun and John Lewis; and even actors and humanitarians Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte.
Last fall, the Supreme Court granted Davis a stay of execution only two hours before he was to be put to death. A month after that, the justices reversed their decision and allowed the execution to proceed, but a federal appeals court issued another stay.
I can only imagine the pain that the slain officer’s family must feel as well as their desire to “have some peace,” but closure for the family shouldn’t mean the death of an innocent man.
There are many dynamics that probably play a role in Davis’ nearly 20 years on death row; one is quite simply the town in which he’s been tried. Georgia’s Chatham County is a place that’s known for its controversial stance on slavery, racism and the Jim Crow era – quite simply, the southern town may not have been as fair as it could’ve been in Davis’ case. An interesting fact about Chatham County is that with 250,000 residents, it’s a relatively small portion of Georgia’s overall 9.7 million people. However, Chatham County has produced 40 percent of all death row exonerations in Georgia.
That’s very unsettling.
The reason Davis has probably gotten such a raw deal is because a white police officer was unjustly killed. The death of a police officer is not only a tragic loss, but it’s also a gross insult to their dedication. However, even the death of a police officer shouldn’t dictate whether an innocent man dies for a crime he didn’t commit.
Hopefully when the U.S. Supreme Court returns from recess, Sotomayor and the other justices will effectively do their jobs by deciding Davis’ fate in a fair and balanced manner.