Friday, June 16, 2023

A Two-Tiered Justice System

When news of the indictment of Donald Trump broke, before the indictment was unsealed, Virginia’s Governor Glenn Youngkin issued a tweet in which he decried the emergence of a “two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted” implying that the charges against Trump were politically motivated. 

Youngkin couldn’t be more wrong about the nature of the charges against the former President. I wonder if he regrets his decision to tweet before the indictments were unsealed. It is certainly plain for all of us to see now that the charges are based on meticulously researched, thoroughly documented evidence that all serious-minded legal experts agree put Trump in great peril.

If the Governor is genuinely concerned about a two-tiered justice system, about politically motivated investigations and weaponizing the grand jury system, he ought to look in the mirror, preferably while he’s standing next to his Attorney General and fellow extremist, Jason Miyares. 

Impacts on Public Education

Over the last year and a half, we have witnessed Attorney General Jason Miyares initiate investigations into two school districts in northern Virginia with duly elected school boards that are dominated by members endorsed by Democrats: Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) and Fairfax County Public School (FCPS). These so-called investigations (at least one on Governor Youngkin’s orders) were in response to issues raised by conservative activists and amplified by far-right media outlets.

In late December, criticism of the school system's handling of National Merit Scholarship commendations arose following an article written by a co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, claiming that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) intentionally delayed notifying commended students until after the early college application deadline, suggesting it was part of a "war on merit." The Coalition for TJ currently has an ongoing lawsuit against FCPS concerning revisions to the magnet school's admissions policies, which has been found meritless by an appeals court.

In response to the Attorney General’s politically motivated investigation, FCPS commissioned an independent investigation conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson that found no basis for the claims that notices of National Merit Scholarship commendations were intentionally withheld from students. The review confirmed that eight schools within FCPS did not notify students designated as "commended" however the investigation concluded that there was no evidence of intentional withholding or any policy decision by FCPS or the individual schools involved.

Superintendent Michelle Reid emphasized that there was no evidence to suggest deliberate withholding of notification or any inequity or racial bias in the actions taken by the schools regarding notifications or distribution of certificates.

The story is in the headlines again as the schools pour resources into attorney’s fees to defend against a subpoena of the Sands Anderson report to protect the privacy and safety of those teachers and administrators who cooperated with the independent investigation. 

A Two-Tiered System

My primary concern lies with the detrimental impact these attacks will have on our children's education. They create obstacles for our schools to attract and retain highly qualified teachers and hinder their ability to provide a top-notch education.

Youngkin and Miyares should redirect their focus toward real issues that demand attention, such as ensuring the safety of our communities from gun violence. Or maybe even just getting the Virginia Department of Education to review and renew teacher licenses in a timely manner – an issue that has caused a lot of problems for our already stressed education system. It is imperative that Republicans refrain from wielding their power to launch baseless assaults on elected school boards and our hard-working school administrators for their own personal political gain.

Now is the time for us to come together as a united community and rally behind our schools. We must guarantee that every child, irrespective of their background or geographical location, has access to a first-rate education.

But, just as with Trump’s unsealed indictment, the truth has come out about the real two-tiered justice system we have in Virginia. In almost every jurisdiction you don’t have to look far to find disproportionality in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in bringing charges, seeking jail time, and use of cash bail.

I’ll continue to support the good work begun by our progressive prosecutors to address that problem. The same prosecutors, like Falls Church’s own Parisa Deghani-Tafti who have been attacked by Youngkin and Miyares for doing the real work of criminal justice reform so that we have one system of justice regardless of race, income, or zip code.