Guest column: Democracy on trial in the court of public opinion

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
Tony Choate

Folks of a certain age may remember “Perry Mason,” as a fifties and sixties television show starring Raymond Burr as the title character, a criminal defense attorney portrayed as intelligent, analytical and dedicated to justice.

Each episode followed one case to a pivotal moment when it appeared the guilty would go free and the innocent would suffer a terrible injustice.

However, Perry Mason would always save the day by introducing critical new evidence or convincing a witness to testify, bringing new clarity to the case, and leading to justice. Something that came to be known as a Perry Mason moment.

Today, we face a pivotal moment in history as our Constitutional system of democracy is on trial. On January 6, 2021, supporters of the former president stormed the U.S. Capitol to try and overturn the results of the presidential election, marking the first violent attempt to stop the transfer of power in U.S. history.

Numerous investigations of the violent attack are underway and recent polls indicate the court of public opinion is still out.

Those polls also indicate a significant minority of Americans, including more than 70 percent of Republicans, have rejected one of the most basic concepts of our democratic system.

Understanding that the executive and legislative branches were inherently political in nature, the framers created the judicial branch to preserve the rule of law and our rights as citizens without undue political influence.

In America, our judicial branch of government is the foundation of the rule of law.

Following the 2020 presidential election, the judicial branch of government in the United States soundly rejected claims that the election had been “rigged.”

Evaluating claims that the election was stolen, Pennsylvania federal appeals court judge Matthew W. Brann wrote the following of the effort to throw out millions of votes.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief despite the impact it would have on such a large group of citizens.”

His ruling went on to confirm the findings of every other judge who evaluated these claims.

“That has not happened. Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.”                                                                                                                                                                                      

Our judicial system was unanimous in finding there is no credible evidence that fraud, error or anything else affected the results of the election. Numerous independent audits have also confirmed the fact that Joe Biden won the election.

Nevertheless, a significant minority of Americans, including more than 70% of Republicans, have rejected the unanimous decision of the judicial branch that the election was free and fair.

In so doing, they have rejected the Constitutional framework of our democracy, which makes the judicial branch the arbiter of such disputes.   

If we truly are a government of the people, by the people and for the people, the importance of our role as individual citizens can hardly be overestimated.

We have a serious responsibility as citizens to evaluate the evidence and make our judgments known.

Nevertheless, many members of the public today seem more inclined to make decisions based on an emotional response to political theater, complete with outlandish claims made by elected officials to mislead their followers.

The former president of the United States has continued to use abilities he honed during his time on reality television to tell a fabricated story about a rigged election, while the current president stayed relatively silent for a yar.  

However, on the first anniversary of the attack incited by the former president, current President Joe Biden pointed out that the former president is responsible for the attack on our democracy.

He plainly stated the painfully obvious fact that there would not have been an attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 if the former president had not falsely claimed the election was stolen    

While many have been waiting for President Biden to speak on the matter, it will take time to know if his powerful message will be seen as a Perry Mason moment.

Probably not. However, Attorney General Merrick Garland  reported that more than 700 defendants have been charged, and 17 defendants are scheduled to go to trial for their role in felony conspiracies.

He made it clear more serious charges are on the horizon.

That leaves room for a few more Perry Mason moments that could influence the court of public opinion to move toward justice.