Emmys host Jimmy Kimmel had a lot of fun Sunday night ridiculing Donald Trump in front of an overwhelmingly Democratic Hollywood crowd. The truth is, though, that the talk show personality and the Republicans’ Mad Hatter of a presidential nominee are united in their contempt for one of the Constitution’s most important safeguards of our individual liberty.
That protection is the Bill of Rights’ Sixth Amendment, which guarantees every American accused of a crime the services of a defense lawyer: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
These are protections deemed so vital that the Framers’ work of genius—the original text of the Constitution–would have been inadequate without their addition as part of the Bill of Rights. Donald Trump—who in defiance of right reason, the laws of probability and common decency is, in fact the GOP’s presidential candidate–on Monday bemoaned the fact that the naturalized Afghan immigrant accused of planting bombs in New York and New Jersey before shooting it out with police.
Trump told a Florida rally that it’s “a shame” that the wounded Ahmad Khan Rahami was captured alive. “The bad part,” according to Trump is that “now we will give him amazing hospitalization. He will be taken care of by some of the best doctors in the world. He will be given a fully modern and updated hospital room. And he’ll probably even have room service knowing the way our country is.” (Odd, but I don’t think even New Jersey hospitals require bedridden patients to prepare their own meals.)
“On top of all of that,” the failed casino operator said, “he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer.” This, according to the notoriously litigious Trump, whose assorted shady businesses might as well have been organized as a kind of lawyers’ full employment act, will result in Rahami’s case dragging through the criminal justice system for years before he receives a “diluted” sentence. (Odd, again, but I seem to recall that the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tasmaev, who was far more severely wounded than Rahami already has been tried and sentenced to death by a federal jury. I guess that’s a “diluted” sentence if you think we ought to bring back drawing and quartering, but then Trump has said he’s a big torture fan—and the continued infliction of his repellent persona on the rest of us would seem to bear that out.)
Then there’s Kimmel. Let’s face it: If it wasn’t for cheap shots there wouldn’t be any late night TV, but there was a kind of lynch mob quality to the moment in which the Emmy host chose to dismiss the Sixth Amendment. FX’s multi-part docudrama, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” was one of the evening’s big winners and one person after another found it necessary to go to the mike and signal they believed in Simpson’s guilt, while fawning on former prosecutor Marcia Clark, who was in the audience. Fair enough.
However when Courtney B. Vance won an Emmy for his portrayal of Simpson’s lead counsel, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., he made no mention of the inspiration he clearly drew from Johnnie, who died some years ago. Kimmel, however, took the opportunity to quip, “I have to believe Johnnie Cochran is somewhere smiling up at us tonight.”
Silly me, I’d never realized that brilliantly fulfilling the lawyerly obligation to provide every defendant the best possible defense under law merited eternal damnation. (Full disclosure, I covered the Simpson trial—don’t remember seeing Kimmel there—and Johnnie was a personal friend with whom I wrote a best-selling book.)
Carl E. Douglas, Johnnie’s longtime colleague and frequent second chair, who also was on the Simpson defense team, similarly took offense. “I understand it was a joke, I get it,” he told an interviewer. “But I have a right to be offended, particularly because Johnnie has done so much in his life separate from representing a former Heisman Trophy winner accused of a gruesome double murder. And for anyone to suggest that, on a moral level, that act, as a lawyer, could cause him to spend his afterlife in hell, offended me. And I am sure offended other fair-minded people across the country.”
Those who’ve visited this blog before may recall my recitation of a set piece Johnnie used to use when addressing groups about police abuse, the elimination of which was his professional life’s great work.
He would ask members of the audience to name the most powerful person in the criminal justice system. Inevitably, the majority would respond with “the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Johnnie would respond with his inimitable chuckle and say, “No, the most powerful person in the criminal justice system is the cop on the street, because he’s the only one with the power to summarily execute you, whatever you have or haven’t done—and he can get away with it.”
And that, Johnnie would say, is why every person in the room should believe in due process, because while you can guarantee you’ll never commit a crime, you can’t ever guarantee that you won’t be accused of one.
That’s why, if you are unfortunate enough to be accused of criminality, you want to hire the smartest, most diligent and talented lawyer you can reach.
Take it from me: If Jimmy Kimmel ever is arrested, the only reason he won’t call Johnnie Cochran is because Johnnie no longer is available to take the call.