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It was an admonition to preserve our constitutional rights, rather than throw them away in exchange for the illusion of security.

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall gave a warning about judges who ignore the law.

Fathers Agree That Her Judges are Ignoring the Law 

By Ed Oliver
November 2001 

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall delivered a speech last month to the Chamber of Commerce in Boston that was delivered in the context of the recent terrorist attacks.

She lectured about the dangers of judges who ignore the law and due process in a misguided attempt to correct a perceived evil.

The fathers of the state say she should have remembered that a week previous when picketers from the Fatherhood Coalition confronted her at the Courthouse in Salem.

On that day, Justice Marshall and the Supreme Judicial Court traveled to Salem Superior Court, rather than hold court in Boston as they usually do. They were greeted by two dozen picketers.

The picketer's message was that Massachusetts courts are conducting a modern-day witch-hunt against fathers and men in order to stamp out an illusory epidemic of domestic violence against women. This removes many children from the guidance and companionship of their fathers.

One sign held by a father read:

Some of the fathers who picketed Justice Marshall at the Salem Courthouse.


Others read:




MassNews interviewed each of the protesters that day. The men complained that in domestic matters, judges too often ignore due process and the law where they are concerned.

They said unfair judges and court personnel, who are beholden to gender politics, treat men as though they are dangerous and evil. They place men automatically under suspicion as the guilty party. Women, they said, are automatically assumed by the courts to be victims, despite the evidence.

The fathers said an atmosphere of hysteria about domestic violence has contributed to the problem.

Is it possible that the fathers managed to get Margaret Marshall to hear their message, even though she didn't stop to talk to them? Marshall's assistant later told MassNews she saw some photos from the Salem protest on the MassNews website, but she did not want to comment any further.

Similar to Witch Trials

Marshall's speech to the Chamber contained remarkable parallels to what the fathers were saying is happening to them. They say they feel like victims of a judicial witch-hunt.

The Chief Justice said there have been other times in our history when anxious communities have clamored for the illusion of safety at any price.

Marshall gave an example in her speech that mirrored what Salem protesters were trying to tell her is happening to them.  

"I hope you will not find it too far-fetched if I look back to some events that may seem far removed from our present challenges - events that took place in Salem 300 years ago," said Marshall.

She related that in 1692, the new governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony returned from London with a new charter from their royal majesties, William and Mary.

The new charter gave the legislature the sole power of establishing courts, while the governor had the right to appoint judges.

The governor arrived in the midst of a crisis. Witches were rumored to be everywhere destroying livestock, tormenting children and stealing souls. More than 60 people had been charged with practicing witchcraft, which was a crime.

Determined to eradicate witchcraft, the governor appointed a special court to hear the charges of witchcraft, even though exclusive power to create a court rested with the legislature.

"The judges, backed by the legal community and prominent citizens, including clergy, set about to create the proofs they needed to convince people that the court could remedy the problem," said Marshall.

"The court began to convict people accused of witchcraft based not only on confessions - hard to obtain - but on whole new categories of evidence developed to fit a perceived threat.

"The judges created new rules. They ignored rules of evidence long developed at common law. The first victim, Bridget Bishop, was hanged within a week of the court's opening term. Little due process there. Within a matter of months, 19 people had been hanged, the victims of both public sentiment and what might be termed 'judicial murder.'

"By early fall, 1692, reaction had set in. There was a mood of concern that a justice system, under the sway of popular opinion, had distorted the principles of due process of law."

Marshall went on to say that the governor himself had a change of heart, perhaps precipitated by rumors that his own wife was a witch.

Marshall said the legislature then established a new court of justice, the Supreme Judicial Court. Of the 56 accused witches remaining in jail, only three were declared guilty after trial by jury, and they were later pardoned by the governor.

"What had changed?" asked Marshall. She said not only had popular opinion changed, but a court separate and distinct from the other branches of government had been lawfully established - the Supreme Judicial Court. "It was not a mere instrument for venting mass anxiety. It was a court subject to the common law, and governed by long-established procedures to ascertain the facts reliably."

Marshall then praised the Constitution. "It emanates from one bedrock premise: obedience to the rule of law - to neutral principles of justice - is the cornerstone of all freedom.

"Our Federal Constitution demands that the same rules apply equally to everyone. It demands that justice be administered fairly and impartially."

Marshall said she turned to the words of the Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, to help answer the question about whether the constitutional course is compatible with the broader public security.

According to Marshall, Barak said that judges are guided by fundamental values, not public opinion, hysteria or transient fashions. Even terrorists have rights and are to be treated with dignity.

The fathers who greeted the SJC at Salem, who are seen as a threat to public safety because they are men, say they were crying out for the same rights and dignities that Margaret Marshall implied are owed, even to terrorists.