Unpretentious Minnesota courtroom is a powerful reminder of why fair courts matter

April 21, 2021

Yesterday, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts in the murder of George Floyd. The convictions are neither the beginning or the end of a long story of racial struggle in the United States.

Amid the deluge of news coverage, commentary, and public discussion of this trial, it’s worth taking a minute to remind ourselves of why we continue to do our work to advance fair and impartial courts.

Every day, injustices occur. And every day, the human drama plays out in our nation’s criminal courtrooms. Judges and lawyers and jurors sort through the details of those cases. Tales of human frailty and bad decisions, stories of strength and courage – the full range of our lived experiences are on display in those courtrooms.

For the past three weeks, many Americans have watched one courtroom, and they have seen the (sometimes mind-numbingly mundane) process of justice being done. They have seen skilled lawyers making their respective cases, expert witnesses offering detailed information, witnesses offering first-hand perspectives, citizen jurors taking time from their lives to respectfully hear both sides to weigh evidence and reach an informed decision, and an experienced (and merit-selected) judge, Peter Cahill, facilitating a respectful, evenhanded, and thorough process.

This is why our state courts matter. Nearly 84 million cases were considered in state trial courts nationwide in 2018, according to the Court Statistics Project. Approximately 17 million of those were criminal cases (not including traffic cases, domestic relations cases, or juvenile justice cases). Every one of those cases involves real people. A good number of those cases involve heartbreak and sadness and loss. In every criminal case, a person’s liberty is at stake, and the decision may change their life forever. In every criminal case, a victim and their loved ones are seeking to be seen and heard and, to the extent that it is possible, to have wrongdoing recognized and punished.

And in every one of those cases, the people involved should know, unconditionally, that the court will behave with integrity, will honor the dignity and worth of each individual, and will do justice.

The justice system is not perfect. Like so many other systems, it is hard work to make it more perfect. And this is why our work is never done and more vital than ever. State courts are essential to the project of American democracy. A single unpretentious courtroom in Hennepin County, Minnesota is a powerful reminder of this.

The Team at Justice Not Politics