There is a sizeable number of Americans who think fondly of the Confederate Army. You know, those traitors that got their ass beat by the North over wanting to maintain slavery? That loser militia that gets honored for being a longstanding part of American tradition, despite it having existed for less than the American horror drama TV show True Blood? No, seriously. Remember Bill Compton, one of the main vampires from that six-year long series? He was a former Confederate soldier and, assuming he ran with the Confeds since their inception and till their shameful defeat, would have only served with them for four years, because the Confederacy only lasted for four years. Given that True Blood ran for six, his love for Sookie proved stronger than the Southern Cross. Mythic history aside, Confederate imagery and rhetoric has material effects to this day, which is why the ABA reasoned that they should be removed from courtrooms.
Confederate memorabilia “and other symbols of racial and ethnic bias” should be removed from facilities where court proceedings are held, according to a resolution passed Monday by the ABA House of Delegates. Resolution 402 was submitted by the Virgin Islands Bar Association and heard by the House during the 2023 ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. An accompanying report notes that ABA’s Goal III is eliminating bias and enhancing diversity in the profession.
My first thought reading this was “There are still courtrooms that have confederate décor up? That has to be bad for optics!” … but then I remembered that Arkansas, former member of the Confederacy mind you, still has a former plantation that was turned into a prison where prisoners are currently picking cotton. Unsurprisingly, like holding a thematic office party plantation retreat, not everyone is equally enthused by the thematic choices that have been made in legal settings.
“To all, especially those who look like me, these are a reminder of injustice and hatred,” said D’Andrade, who is Black.
A Tennessee courthouse is cited as an example in the resolution report. Located in Giles County, juries deliberate in what the report refers to as a “Confederate Jury Room.” Room decorations include a Confederate flag, portraits of Confederate leaders and United Daughters of the Confederacy symbols, the report states.
This is around the point in the story where I would imagine some scenario where some defense attorney would rely on troping and the environment in an attempt to sway the jury’s opinion. As it turns out, one need not even speculate about hypothetical situations where the décor may have interfered with justice — that already happened:
Tim Gilbert, a Tennessee criminal defendant convicted of aggravated assault, had a jury that deliberated in the Confederate Jury Room. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a new trial in 2021, finding that the jury was exposed to improper outside influence and the state did not sufficiently rebut the presumption of prejudice.
It also makes me think of Ahmaud Arbery’s lynching. In Georgia. You know, one of those former Confederate states. Prior to the trial but during the phase where 15 out of the 16 potential jurors were white men — after the judge admitted that there appeared to be intentional discrimination — a worry was raised that the jury may have been too biased. By the defense. From CNN:
“It would appear that White males born in the South, over 40 years of age, without four-year college degrees, sometimes euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,’ seem to be significantly underrepresented,” defense attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, told the court Friday.
I can definitely see how issues of prejudice could arise in a criminal matter where a defendant is to be meted out justice by a pack of good ol’ boys as Confederate flags billow in the breeze. I can’t wait to see what the freshly Marie Kondo’d courthouses look like.
Judge Says ‘There Appears To Be Intentional Discrimination’ In Arbery Jury Selection, But Allows Trial To Move Forward With 1 Black Juror [CNN]
Confederate Symbols Should Be Removed From Courthouses, ABA House Says [ABA Journal]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.