The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

16 January 2006

The return of "separate but equal"

The amazing thing is that it's happening in 2006:

Under the guise of multiculturalism, the Presiding Judge of the Maricopa County [Arizona] Superior Court, Barbara Mundell, has set up separate race-based courts for defendants convicted of aggravated DUI’s. Defendants who speak Spanish are sent to their own Hispanic court, which is conducted by Judge Mundell in Spanish. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and members of the public must ask for headphones, if available, to have the proceedings translated into English. Very little is recorded, so it is impossible to determine afterwards with accuracy such things as the circumstances surrounding a decision to sentence a defendant to jail for violating probation.

Native Americans are segregated into their own court, and are required to show up together on one designated day each month. They are required to participate in sweat lodges and talking circles, regardless of whether their tribe historically participated in such activities. Some of the Native American and Hispanic DUI defendants have objected to the separate courts. All other DUI offenders, whether white, black, or other race or nationality, are assigned to standard DUI Court.

This would seem to be a screaming violation of the Equal Protection clause, but Judge Mundell demurs: she says that the initial trial of a defendant is not heard in these courts, and therefore it's okay. And what's more:

Judge Mundell has stated that she would be happy to set up separate courts in other languages for African-Americans, Asians, and other ethnic groups if there were sufficient numbers to justify each court.

I believe this qualifies as "unclear on the concept."

(Via Jeff Quinton.)

Posted at 9:28 PM to Political Science Fiction

TrackBack: 7:21 AM, 17 January 2006
» “Separate but equal” courts in Maricopa County from Independent Christian Voice
This is so unbelievable, I don’t even know what to say: Almost 38 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, “separate but equal” still exists in Maricopa County, Arizona....[read more]

*jaw drops in amazement and disgust*

Posted by: david at 9:49 PM on 16 January 2006

"...unclear on the concept..." is a most generous assessment. Judge Mundell seems to be in violation of numerous laws of the land, as well as being elitist and arrogant. Her tenure on the bench may have exceeded the half-life of her basic constitutional and legal knowledge.

Posted by: Winston at 6:28 AM on 17 January 2006

Umm. Equal Protection? EQUAL PROTECTION?!!!

Sorry, that was the screaming. It's one thing to be an activist judge striking down laws. It's quite another to actively disregard one of the fundamental principles of constitutional law.

Posted by: Dan at 10:47 AM on 17 January 2006

I don’t have a problem with this. Let me explain:

1.) The US does not have an official language. I don’t think Arizona does either. There is nothing sacred about the judicial system that requires it to be performed in English. It is, however, required to be fair & impartial. I suspect that means that if you are not English speaking the courts are required, morally and legally, to be accommodating of that. By definition, justice would require it.

2.) There are a lot of Spanish speaking people in Arizona. [In fact if I remember correctly there is a higher percentage of Hispanics than any other minority.] I suspect a number of them get DUIs. This setup seems to be more of a pragmatic solution to making it easier and faster to try the Spanish speaking people of this state.

Whats wrong with this?

Posted by: BridgetB at 12:41 PM on 17 January 2006

It would seem then that the principle of equla protection under the law is being excuted rationally here. A good example of this is the Gideon case. He could not read but was expected to defend himself. A Spanish speaking person should not be expected to defend himself in English if he cannot. Would that be justice?

Posted by: BridgetB at 12:55 PM on 17 January 2006

Inasmuch as Spanish-speaking DUI defendants in Arizona are, according to the article, already routinely provided with interpreters, separating them into their own court would seem to be overkill. And this is disturbing:

The Superior Court's literature describes the DUI Courts as catering to different "cultures," since regular DUI Court is for the "dominant class, white males."

This sounds to me like language is among the least of the issues. And the treatment of the Native Americans appears to be indefensible on any grounds.

Posted by: CGHill at 1:12 PM on 17 January 2006


I think you do make an excellent point. Separate courts for cultural reasons is idiotic. Justice should be based on reason. Logic is not cultural. I was under the impression that this separate court was a means to be more efficient; not to be more sensitive to law breakers that aren't white. This post did not make that very clear. Im glad you brought it up. Although I would like to see clearer evidence that this is the case.

Posted by: BridgetB at 1:28 PM on 17 January 2006

Efficiency is a Good Thing, and I don't have a problem with multiple languages. What I'd really like to know is what might be going on in the Latino court that isn't happening in other courts — and apparently they're not keeping good records:

Very little is recorded, so it is impossible to determine afterwards with accuracy such things as the circumstances surrounding a decision to sentence a defendant to jail for violating probation.

There's nothing here that says so up front, but I'd be worried that some of these folks might be getting railroaded through the system and no one is the wiser.

The source for this identifies herself as a "Deputy County Attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office," which suggests that she's at least somewhat familiar with what's going on.

Posted by: CGHill at 2:06 PM on 17 January 2006