The State of Michigan Court of Appeals has just (November 1) struck down on constitutional grounds the local ordinance under which Manistee housewife Janice Barton was convicted and jailed, in 2000, for observing – to her mother in a private conversation, overheard by an off-duty Hispanic sheriff's deputy– that "I wish these damned 'spics' would learn to speak English."
The Barton case was first brought to national attention by VDARE.COM (See "Report From Occupied Michigan"). It was an early example of our ever-popular "Diversity vs. Freedom" series. The Center For American Unity, VDARE.COM's sponsor, filed an amicus brief in Barton's defense, in collaboration with Pro-English, the country's leading English-language advocates. The issues were whether Americans are free to use terms that minorities decide are offensive – and whether wanting immigrants to speak English is still allowed.
Earlier this fall, I went in Grand Rapids with Edith Hakola, Executive Vice President of CFAU, to hear the case argued in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Edith, who is an attorney, was introduced by Janice Barton's lawyer, Matthew Posner, and got to sit in a sort of sub-throne right under the bench. The judges seemed pleased to see her.
It was a hot day. Janice Barton, a pleasant motherly woman, appeared in court with bare arms. Her husband, Barney, wore a workshirt with a blue collar (literally) and jeans. Painfully thin, he had to go outside every few minutes for a cigarette, the long arm of health fascism having long ago reached Grand Rapids government buildings.
The Appeals Court has now reversed Mrs. Barton's conviction and "remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion." This presumably means she may get her fine returned to her. But the days she spent in jail cannot, of course, be returned. And the Sheriff's department has tried to charge her for her time in jail, increasing the charge when she protested. A collection agency is now threatening to ruin her credit.
The State of Michigan may still appeal the Court's ruling. And it must be noted that the Court's grounds for decision were ominously narrow. Mrs. Barton, the Court said, was convicted for "conduct she could not reasonably have known was criminal." Accordingly, the Court added, it was leaving open the question of whether "a racial slur" constituted "fighting words" – and could therefore indeed be constitutionally proscribable. Equally, the Court did not rule on our brief's contention that expressing the view that immigrants should learn English, however forcefully, was obviously constitutionally protected.
This is a very real issue in Occupied America. On the very day that the Barton decision made news, Long Island's Newsday was reporting (November 4, 2002) that Linda Alberti, a Nassau County employee, is to be fired for using "racial slurs" – which the paper could not bring itself to repeat – in a private telephone conversation that was recorded without her knowledge.
At VDARE.COM, we are fascinated to note that the Nassau county executive who launched the "slur investigation" is one Thomas Suozzi [email him]. We quoted him last summer saying "These [illegal aliens congregating in Glen Cove] are not going to go away. We don't have the power to ask someone for a green card."
We wondered at the time if Suozzi's passivity applied to any other local violations. Apparently, Ms. Alberti has discovered something that Suozzi is willing to enforce.
After the Court of Appeals hearing, Edith and I took Janice and Barney Barton to lunch. They had stayed overnight with a relative and were planning to head straight back to Manistee, a three-hour drive.
I was immensely impressed with Janice and Barney. Ordinary Americans, desperately worried about their work and families, they still found the strength to go up against legal tyranny. Edith, because of her years litigating against union goons on behalf of workers and the Right To Work Foundation, was less surprised. But I still find myself asking a version of the question made famous by James Michener at the shattering climax of his Korean War drama The Bridges At Toko-Ri: "Where do we get these people?"
Of course, I also wonder where we got the judge who put her in jail - Chief Judge Brent V. Danielson of the 85th District Court.
[See also "The Barton Case: Waking The Sleeping Giant?' by James Fulford]
November 04, 2002