By GARY C. NORMAN, J.D. L.L.M.
Mr. Norman served as Chair of the Board of Commissioners at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights from 2018 to 2021, co-leading the Agency to a new three-year strategic plan. He also formally served on the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one of his concurrent roles. In addition, he and his third guide dog Bowie are shareholder members (Bowie, honorary) at the historic library Company of Philadelphia.
As I have often emphasized as Chair at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (Commission), this is a great republic that has given me many opportunities as a lawyer but as a blind person. Yet, I can only imagine what the ravishes of the past or systemic bias may feel like for our African American brothers and sisters—even those who are fellow lawyers. I have known significant bias, discrimination, and stigma as a lawyer with a disability curtailing my career opportunities. Therefore, I am proud to play my own role, even if small, in ensuring that our great and historic charter of the U.S. Constitution actualizes as more than just words on a page for all of us.
As the insurrection of 2021 should remind lawyer public servants, history—its successes and its failures—looms never so far in the distance.1 Certainly, this proved true for the lawyer aristocrats of Rome and its Senate, who looked to their heroes—even ones from hundreds of years ago—for guidance on current affairs. As lawyers, we must grapple with our hearts and our commitment in redressing the race-based crimes of the past. Such that, in the words of President Biden, we will be “the country that we should be and can be.” Otherwise, our republic stands doomed to repeat January 6, 2021, making all of us less free. I could not “see” the portrayals of insurgents carrying Confederate flags within the U.S. Capitol.2
One opinion author described the insurrection as “. . .bright reds of the Confederate and Nazi flags and matching MAGA hats simmered against a sea of Trump flags now sold on street corner popup shops that outnumbered American flags, a noose, a raised wooden cross reminiscent of Klan lynching, and a [horrible] sweater. . . .”3 The sound clips I heard that day and beyond broke my heart as a patriotic American who has been involved with some form of community service since I was a grammar school boy. The rioters showed a proportion of our society, who are not only left behind by a more diverse and technical American story, but who cope with this change by reveling in the mythology of the Lost Cause grounded in the inferiority of the other.4 In December 2020, the final surviving widow of a Confederate soldier died.5 Therefore, vestiges of racism and race-based crimes still demand our attention in this great, but imperfect, republic, requiring the continued commitment of lawyers and the rule of law to ensure equality and equilibrium.
As President Biden stated, racial equity must be “the business of the whole of government.”6 A future hearing of the Commission, in 2022, will explore the role of law, government, and indeed lawyers, in race-based crime. It is particularly disturbing that lawyers may have actively supported the January 6, 2021 riots. For example, a lawyer from Georgia, William Calhoon, reveled in the rioters “stopping the steal.” U.S. senators, including Senator Ted Cruz, supported the mythology of former President Trump and his “private army” as to the “stolen election.”7 While the Senator acts questionably, he possesses impressive legal credentials. When even U.S. senators, who are lawyers, foment arguably at best perspectives at worst outright falsehoods that resulted in an insurrection on a seat of government, it quite clearly implicates a need for soul searching and affirmative measures by our profession.
In September 2020, the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its Interim Report to the Maryland General Assembly and to the Maryland Governor.8 The Commission must provide recommendations as part of its final report, including recommendations “rooted in the spirit of restorative justice.”9 Because of the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission met monthly through online meeting platforms. As Chair of the Commission, I have the honor of witnessing the dedication and passions the Board members bring to our historic work. Moreover, the Commission has received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Public service can reinforce the best of the cardinal virtues in all of us: fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence. The Commission anticipates holding its “hearings” in 2022 across the state, providing a good, facilitated forum and history capture about lynching. Generally, a thought pattern exists among several members that, despite its strictures as a short-term public body, the Commission must really bring healing and storytelling to these past crimes, empowering communities. In the interim, the Maryland General Assembly considered various proposed bills during the 2021 regular session that touch upon race-based equity concerns. Maryland lawmakers repealed the state song, Maryland, My Maryland, and Governor Hogan approved.10 For those who do not understand that history proves not so far distant, this bill may arguably seem as sound and fury signifying nothing. The lyrics quite arguably show defiance against the federal government. The song arguably derogates what pro-American supporters of our government considered a war-time measure: quelling the insurgents. Of interest, House Bill 1021, the Harriet Tubman Community Investment Act, proposes empaneling a reparations task force.11 Concurrently, a bill has been introduced in Congress also to empanel a federal-level Commission on reparations.12 The title of the bill, as with all titles for Congressional bills, reflects a specific purpose, or even literalism in some instances.
The reparations-related legislative measures could broker much needed dialogue among us as the leaders of society. Considering that Democrats do not have a cloture-proof majority in the current U.S. Senate, the Congressional proposal will not likely gain traction in the 117th session. Even bills that have limited opposition require protracted time in our antiquated short session here in Maryland. As legal professionals, we are supposed to value the past—in other words, precedent. As such, one must logically draw a line to the important restorative efforts we undertook as a republic to recompense for our crimes against our own Japanese citizens during World War II.13 To provide the reasoned analysis every lawyer should engage in, “. . . attaining reparations to African-Americans is not an impossible dream.”14 However, “. . .it is, and will continue to be, much harder than it was for Japanese-Americans.”15 The proposed cost of a pure reparations measure is one countervailing consideration.16 For all of these considerations, I look forward to the work of these proposed Commissions. In conclusion, let us have “malice towards none,” while never yielding—like President Lincoln—in our efforts to honor the profession and to serve the Union at all costs. In his famous words, “. . . let us strive on to finish the work we are in. . . .”17
1 Rahe Lynn Barnes & Keri Leigh Merritt, Opinion: A Confederate Flag at the Capital Summons America’s Demons, CNN, Jan. 7, 2021, 6:58 P.M., https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/07/opinions/capitol-riot-confederacy-reconstruction-birth-of-a-nation-merritt-barnes/index.html.
4 Compare id., with Meilan Solly, The Last Surviving Widow of a Civil War Veteran Dies at 101, Smithsonian Mag. (Jan. 7, 2021), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/last-surviving-widow-civil-war-veteran-dies-101-180976702/.
5 Solly id.. (According to the article, the last surviving widow reasonably comprised a feminist for her time; keeping her own last mname. She wed the veteran when she was seventeen years old. More interesting than this, the article indicates that, from 2008 to 2017, there may have been many surviving Civil War widows.).
6 White House, Remarks of President Biden at Signing of an Executive Order on Racial Equity (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/01/26/remarks-by-president-biden-at-signing-of-an-executive-order-on-racial-equity/.
7 Bryan Mena, “Democrats File Ethics Complaint Against Ted Cruz After Capital Riot,” The Tex. Tribune, Jan. 22, 2021, 12 P.M., https://www.texastribune.org/2021/01/22/ted-cruz-democrats-capitol-riot/.
8 See generally, The Resources contained at the home site for the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, https://msa.maryland.gov/lynching-truth-reconciliation/.
10 Scott Neuman, “Maryland Repeals State Song That Called Lincoln A ‘Tyrant,’” Maryland Matters, May 20, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/05/20/983057655/maryland-repeals-state-song-that-called-lincoln-a-tyrant.
11 State Government—Maryland Reparations Commission, Harriet Tubman Community Investment Act, H. 1021, Reg. Sess. (2021).
12 Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, H.R. 40, 117th Cong. (2021), https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/40?s=1&r=6.
13 See e.g., Rhoda E. Howard-Hassman, Why Japanese-Americans Received Reparations and African-Americans are still Waiting, the Conversation, Jul. 17, 2019, 7:04 P.M., https://theconversation.com/why-japanese-americans-received-reparations-and-african-americans-are-still-waiting-119580.
17 Transcript of President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865), https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash