The Rule of Law … Selective Amnesia?

Lafe Tolliver

By Lafe Tolliver, Esq
Guest Column

Glorious and high sounding as it professes to be, the new shibboleth in American politics is to banter around in the news media the phrase, “The rule of law.”

As has been said, ad nauseum, in the coverage of the pending charges against the former president: “no one is above the law!” or “America has no kings” or “We are a nation of laws, not of men.”

In a democracy, those utterances reflect the principles of the Founding Fathers of America who enshrined into their time-honored writings the fact that each American should receive the equal benefit of the law, no matter their station in life, either humble or heroic or rich or powerful.

As we used to say, “even Steven” for everyone! Basically and supposedly meaning that if you steal, defraud, rob or cheat you can expect (or should expect) that if found out, you should expect to be held to the canons of law then in effect as to where the crime was committed and appropriate punishment thereafter.

But, somewhere along the historical lines of development from the time of 1619 to the present date, there was a departure, a rupture or a re-evaluation of those vaunted principles of equity and justice in America.

For in that departure of treating all people equal and fairly before the law, White America caught a bad case of dementia and through deliberate legal enactments and enforcements, those highly cherished principles of jurisprudence took a brutal butt kicking and the butts were Black Americans and their progeny.

The Founding Fathers and their descendants took it upon themselves to artfully and surreptitiously carve out exceptions to those principles and decided to reserve the rule of law for the benefit of White Americans and their progeny.

Then and even now, the rule of law is invoked to try to maintain the image that all should benefit from due process, freedom from arbitrary and capricious judicial conduct, and this includes the rich and powerful who may deem themselves as untouchables from the reach of the law.

Imagine if you could, the Founding Fathers having the courage of their bold statements to truly implement the statement that all mankind is created in the image of God and thus are valuable and are of infinite worth.

If the rule of law was so precious, then why did not Black Americans receive every benefit of doubt including equal protection of the laws when White America lawlessness wreaked havoc on their lives and subjected them to harsh and unequal penalties, including lynchings, deaths, and theft of their property?

Too many judicial fiats by the United States Supreme Court, held that that the Black man had no rights that a White man had to respect (the Dred Scott decision), and that slavery received judicial approval.

The concept of the rule of law being preeminent in that its power was all powerful and ever present, was a joking nullity for Black Americans who constantly had to protest by their shed blood and loud voices that the rule of law was unevenly applied.

The concept of the rule of law is now being dusted off and is lavishly applied to show that Donald Trump is just a simple citizen as we all are, and he is not entitled to special treatment because of his former status or present power to influence millions of Americans who are seemingly willing to disregard that rule when it suits their purpose.

It makes you wonder that how could American society or its politicos not see straight and realize that for millions of Black Americans, the rule of law played favorites and when need be, it can be hushed up altogether.

When Black Americans were being denied basic voting rights, subjected to bank red lining, discrimination in public accommodations and hostile police aggressions, there was not much talk about how the rule of law was being prostituted in those cases.

The concept of the rule of law has a spotty and disgraceful history in terms of being a guiding and power beacon for both the courts and legislatures to follow because White America did not want to acknowledge their common humanity with Black Americans and much less afford them the basic civilities that they have enjoyed.

So, when you hear certain politicos wax about the soothing language of the rule of law being the polestar of American jurisprudence, just remember that institutions are no more than a reflection of the myriad personalities that control their mission statements and if those personalities disparage or devalue the rule of law, we all suffer for it.

But yet. When it is convenient to trot out that phrase as if somehow it has been in fair play all along and for everyone, you are being taken for a ride.

Don’t believe the hype. Examine who is saying it and what it is being said about.

Donald Trump deserves to be held accountable for his long sordid history of foul play but yet somehow the rule of law was not used to spank him long before now?


Contact Lafe Tolliver at