SEEN UP NORTH: All for the love of justice
Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.
That ode to the balanced scales of justice was delivered by Lord Chief Justice of England, Viscount Gordon Hewart, in quashing the conviction of a motorcyclist who was involved in a 1923 accident.
Ask Barbados’ Chief Justice Marston Gibson, his immediate predecessor Sir David Simmons, or legal luminary Sir Henry Forde, about the global impact of that immortal line and they would tell you that the very appearance of judicial impartiality is essential to the courts in any common law jurisdiction, Barbados included.
A Bajan in New Jersey, Graham Blackman-Harris, who has never set foot in a law school, firmly agrees with Viscount Hewart.
That’s why the 45-year-old FedEx operations manager in Union County, has become one of the biggest fans of the US Supreme Court in Washington.
And he demonstrates his interest in a fascinating way: for the past 20 years, he has driven to the nation’s capital to attend the opening day session of the nation’s top court on the first Monday in October.
“Every person in America should see the US Supreme court in action,” he told the SUNDAY SUN.
“If they make the trip they would recognize we have a magnificent array of talent on that court.”
Blackman-Harris, who grew up in St Lucy and attended Ellerslie Secondary School before coming to the US in 1983 to join his parents, has missed only one opening day session of the Supreme Court since 1991, and when the landmark comprehensive health care plan engineered by President Barack Obama comes up for constitutional review this year, you can bet the Bajan will be in line to get a seat.
He plans to take time from his job, hit the road the day before the hearing and be in line outside the court building at about 5 a.m. so he can get a seat.
“It’s going to be a landmark case that would affect people throughout the country for decades to come,” said Blackman-Harris. “The significance of the case can be seen in the fact that the court has scheduled two days of hearings for it, instead of hours.
“You know, I have a keen interest in the workings of the American system, the separation of powers and the way they work together. I go to Washington to hear the congressional debates, all on my own time and at my expense. I can trace that interest to my love of history, beginning in Barbados.”
The son of Frank Harris and Edeline Blackman, Graham reads many of the court’s decisions and has been called a C-Span (cable television) junkie. He will always remember the day when he got a chance to meet and shake the hand of US Chief Justice John G. Roberts. That happened shortly after the Washington Post ran a story about him and his interest in the court, not to mention his roots in Barbados.
“The chief Justice saw the story and on the day I was there and went on a tour, Justice Roberts took over the tour and greeted me, saying how pleased he was to meet me,” said the Bajan.
Roberts isn’t his favourite jurist. It was the late Thurgood Marshall, the first black person on the court. He described Marshall as a legal luminary and an outstanding human being interested in fairness. He thinks Clarence Thomas, who succeeded Marshall, a “bit extreme”.
“I have read many of Thomas’ decisions and I don’t like his reasoning,” explained Blackman-Harris. “I really don’t agree with a lot of what he has to say and write.”
With that intense focus on the Supreme Court in Washington, one understands why he would wish to visit Barbados’ new court complex in Bridgetown and see how the judges function and to meet the Chief Justice.
“I love Barbados and I identify with the country. It would be an amazing experience to see how its courts operate at the highest level,” he said.
“I consider myself to be a Bajan and a Barbadian-American, and I have no desire to change that. I grew up in Barbados and that shaped who I am – respectful, polite and eager to learn.
“I raised sheep, climbed coconut trees, and did the things Bajans did. I am amazed how the country has developed and has become an example of how people should live. You know, I always wanted to be a lawyer but I couldn’t afford it.”