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Race-based DUI Courts are not Colorblind Justice

Race-based DUI Courts are not Colorblind Justice

By Rachel Alexander

Almost 38 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech, separate but equal still exists in Maricopa County, Arizona. Under the guise of multiculturalism, the Presiding Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court, Barbara Mundell, has set up separate race-based courts for defendants convicted of aggravated DUIs. Defendants who speak Spanish are sent to their own Hispanic court, which is conducted by Judge Mundell in Spanish. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and members of the public must ask for headphones, if available, to have the proceedings translated into English. Very little is recorded, so it is impossible to determine afterwards with accuracy such things as the circumstances surrounding a decision to sentence a defendant to jail for violating probation.

Native Americans are segregated into their own court, and are required to show up together on one designated day each month. They are required to participate in sweat lodges and talking circles, regardless of whether their tribe historically participated in such activities. Some of the Native American and Hispanic DUI defendants have objected to the separate courts. All other DUI offenders, whether white, black, or other race or nationality, are assigned to standard DUI Court.

The local NAACP is outraged by this two-track system of justice. The Reverend Oscar Tillman, President of the Maricopa County NAACP, has joined Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in calling for a halt to race-based courts. As the Maricopa County Attorney, Thomas took an oath to uphold the Constitution. He cannot stand by and allow prosecutors, as well as defendants and victims, to participate in an unconstitutional court. Separate but equal courts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part, no state shalldeny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Unless the government can demonstrate a compelling interest for treating races or nationalities differently, racial segregation by government is held to a strict scrutiny test, which almost always means it will be struck down as unconstitutional. Discrimination by race also violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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