I am a gay black attorney that has practiced criminal law in Davidson County for six years. Over that time I have represented a number of members of the LGBTQI community. These gay and trans people were very conscious of how uniquely difficult being in jail could be for them, and the possibility that having a trial would place them in front of a jury unwilling to treat them fairly because of the way they present themselves to the world. So, I was disappointed when I heard that a judge (who I personally do not believe is homophobic) had donated money to the Tennessee Republican Party at a fundraiser hosted by a man who has consistently worked to undermine the rights of LGBTQI people and has sought to relegate our community to a second-class status: Mike Pence.
The same Mike Pence who Donald Trump once joked wanted to “hang all the gays,” the same Mike Pence who supports conversion therapy and has defunded HIV treatment, the same Mike Pence who blames queer people for the degradation of society and the deterioration of the nuclear family.
On August 3rd of 2017 Mike Pence came to Nashville to host the Tennessee Republican Party’s largest annual fundraiser. State Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden called it “an event no Republican in Tennessee will want to miss.” Not only did Democratic candidate and elected Judge Angelita Blackshear-Dalton attend that event, while she was at it she made a donation of $250 to the Tennessee Republican Party.
At the time Judge Angelita Blackshear-Dalton donated to Mike Pence’s campaign she was a General Sessions judge, elected as a Democrat in 2006 and the first African-American woman elected to a General Session judgeship in Davidson County. I do not believe that when Judge Dalton attended the Mike Pence fundraiser she did so because she supports the Trump agenda, or Mike Pence’s divisive political positions, but there are several implications from her actions that should be addressed.
- At the time that she donated money at the Pence fundraiser Judge Dalton was seeking the appointment to replace Judge Wyatt as the Division II Criminal Court Judge. That appointment was being made by Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican and friend of Mike Pence’s. If Judge Dalton believe, accurately or not, that she had to give money to a partisan political group in order to win the Governor’s approval, that stinks. When a candidate believes that they have to participate in party politics and donate money to a political party in order to preside as a judge, we have allowed the system to veer off its moral course.
- When Judge Dalton attended this event and donated money she was not concerned with how it looked to attend an event with Governor Haslam, and give the governor’s friend money when she was actively seeking a job from him. Even if this doesn’t violate the Judicial code of conduct, the appearance alone should have given her pause.
- And, maybe most problematic for me, when Judge Dalton attended this fundraiser she was not concerned with how the attorneys practicing before her, and the defendants judged by her, would feel when they found out she had given money at a Mike Pence fundraiser—especially for those queer attorneys and defendants who know the things Mike Pence has said about us.
A judge who has donated to a man who would like to execute gay people does not reflect the fairness and due process I believe our criminal system is tasked with providing.
In 2011 while I was in law school in D.C. I had the distinct privilege of representing my first client as a criminal defense attorney. That young man happened to be a queer teenager who had been kicked out of his home because of his sexual orientation. For a deeply religious law student, who was living life in the closet, that young man’s courage living his truth in a hostile situation empowered me in ways he will never know. LGBTQI people like my client shouldn’t have to add worrying about a judge’s political alliances to a man like Mike Pence to all of the other fears they have when they come into court.
Attending the Mike Pence fundraiser means one of two things, either Judge Dalton supports the Trump agenda, Mike Pence and the Tennessee Republican Party, or she decided that it was worthwhile for her to attend this event and donate money to the Tennessee Republican Party in order to gain a job from Governor Haslam. Either position indicates a lack of concern about the appearance of her actions. Such a lack of concern should give pause to Democrats considering her current candidacy as a Democrat, and I hope part of the pause is related to the implications of that decision for LGBTQI people who are in court in front of Judge Dalton.
The opinions contained in this Op-Ed are exclusively the opinions of Mr. Mollenkof, and are not the endorsed by or representative of the opinions of his place of employment or employer. As well, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the O&AN editorial board nor any of its writers or editors.