The Mobilization To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal


Who Is Mumia?


How Can I Help?



Activist Materials




How To Beat The Court
Column Written July 30, 2002
Mumia Abu-Jamal, M.A.

Let me propose a question: What Court is the most powerful in the nation?

Most will reply, immediately, "the Supreme Court."

And most will be right; and most will be wrong.

For, in theory, as a matter of constitutional law, the United States Supreme Court is indeed the most powerful, and sits as that body which decides what is called "the supreme Law of the Land." (Art. VI, U.S. Constitution).

When the U.S. Supreme Court speaks, many folks listen.

But not always.

The Supreme Court makes hundreds of legal rules and decisions every year, on a variety of issues, both civil and criminally. But do lower courts follow the Supreme Court, or do they evade their rulings?

Let's see.

In 1986, the Supreme Court decided, in the case *Batson v. Kentucky*, that it was unconstitutional for a court to exclude jurors from service on the basis of race. Does anyone seriously believe that doesn't happen anymore in the U.S.? Within months of the ruling (Batson) a prominent prosecutor in Philadelphia gave a lecture to his fellow DAs that explained how to evade *Batson*, undermine it, and violate it. It continues today, and blacks continue to be removed from juries.

Similarly, the Supreme Court recently held, in the *Atkins v. Virginia* case, that it was unconstitutional for the state to try to execute the mentally retarded. The *Atkins* case decided to reverse the 1989 *Penry v. Lynaugh* decision, which okayed the execution of the mentally retarded.

To many Courtwatchers (especially abroad) the *Atkins* decision was a heartening indication of a trend which limited the death penalty's application.

But, guess what?

Roughly two weeks after *Atkins* was decided, the still-living Mr.Johny Paul Penry went before a jury in Conroe, Texas, and was, for the third time, sentenced to death.

How can this be, you ask?

Simple. The DA argued that Mr. Penry was no longer retarded, but faking it. The jury agreed.

So, in Penry's case, the very one that was overturned by *Atkins*, the new rule was meaningless.

So, which Court is really the most powerful in the cities and counties of the nation?

Ironically, the most powerful courts are often those courts at the lowest judicial levels -- the trial courts. In New York City these courts are called, "Supreme Courts." This is where most cases really begin, and most really end.