Archibald: Alabama Supreme Court dares to trample your rights

By John Archibald 

The Alabama Supreme Court on Sept. 24, 2021 issued a ruling that effectively closes many police investigation records. Only Chief Justice Tom Parker dissented.

Alabama. We dare defend our rights.

Horse hockey.

Because the rights of Alabamians to see and understand their government were smashed to specks this week by the court that is supposed to watch over them, by the robed men and women who are supposed to stand for … is that justice?

Horse hockey.

“Ponder the scope of today’s decision: The statute will now hide from the public eye ‘any materials related to a particular investigation;’ all ‘items of substantive evidence that existed before the investigation began, such as video recordings or documentary evidence relevant to the crime.’”

“The sweep of those pronouncements is breathtaking,” he went on. “In essence, all evidence in the possession of law-enforcement agencies, whether created by the agency or received from others, is now exempt from citizens’ statutory right to access public records.”

It is a darker day in Alabama.

“With one sweeping stroke, today’s decision spells the end of public access to law-enforcement records that are connected in any way to an investigation,” he wrote. “I cannot sit idly by while this Court shrinks a legal right of the people of Alabama to the vanishing point. And I especially cannot do so when that shrinkage flies in the face of text and precedent.”

Think about that. Listen to that. Hear that. Hear it again.

When the court ruled against Lagniappe, it didn’t just deny that paper access to Baldwin County records. It shrank the legal rights of the people of Alabama to the vanishing point.

Poof.

What Parker essentially said is that every other member of the court put their own personal feelings and politics above precedent and the law.

“The main opinion tries to bring in public-policy concerns through the back door,” he said.

Which is what you find in banana republics and authoritarian regimes.

Democracy cannot operate in the dark. It’s not a sustainable institution when citizens are asked to simply trust and obey those with the most power and the most firepower. It is not sustainable when the adjudicators of the law bring their own politics through the back door to stuff them into your lives.

It is a fundamental right in this country, in this state, to be able to see the workings of government, to be able to understand the circumstances when government workers granted the use of weaponry find reason to take aim at people. When you hide the facts surrounding killings or shootings — or parking tickets for that matter — you don’t merely allow police to act with impunity, you encourage distrust, and upend long-held precedent – even in a state not known for its transparency.

My God, this is a state where people protest for the right to go maskless during a pandemic, where protesters railed about vaccines as ICUs became overloaded, where people presciently  said “give me liberty or give me death” and died in those very hospital wards.

This is a state that boasts audemus jura nostra defendere – “We Dare Defend our Rights” as a motto, even as it used those words to justify trampling on the rights of minorities and others.

If you truly dare defend your rights, Alabama, defend the right to know what your government is doing to the people. To you.

Unless that’s horse hockey, too.