Is Referring to a “Two-Tiered Legal System” Racially Insensitive Outside of a Civil Rights Context?

In yesterday’s hearing on the IRS whistleblowers, Democrats attempted to shift attention from the two respected IRS agents in front of them and their damning evidence of political influence and special treatment in the Hunter Biden investigation. Members spoke primarily about Trump but also an array of other matters from systemic racism to police brutality. However, multiple Democratic members focused on their objections to the use of the phrase “two-tiered legal system,” which they insisted was appropriated from the struggle for racial equality in this country. It was a curious attack since the term has been used by Democrats and liberal commentators outside of that context for years.

Various members were irate at the use of the term during the full-day hearing.

Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla. objected that “since January 6th, these Republicans and Trump have complained about a two-tier justice system, co-opting the language of the decades-long civil rights movement for Black lives and Black freedom.”  He added

“There is a two-tier justice system, but it’s not about Democrats versus Republican. This language, two-tier justice system, has a real history. It has a real history of Emmitt Till. It has a real history with Breonna Taylor. It has a real history with George Floyd, the Central Park Five.

Black, brown and poor people versus everyone else, and I won’t accept when Republican politicians look to appropriate the language of the movement for Black lives and civil rights to fit a political agenda to defend Donald Trump.”

Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., also joined the condemnation and insisted that this term was appropriated from the struggle for racial equality and the fact that Black and brown people in America are “overcriminalized and over-incarcerated.”

“I’d like to address the way my Republican colleagues are attempting to co-opt the phrase ‘two-tier justice system’ to make it sound like Trump and his cronies are somehow the victims here when the reality is that the term two-tier system of justice is meant to refer to the very real system that exists in the United States and which affects Black and brown folks, not powerful former presidents and their political allies.”

However, this is a common term for any legal system that allows for special or preferential treatment of any group.

Indeed, the term is used in cases and even federal rules to refer to the state and federal systems.

The Los Angeles Times objected to the “two-tiered system of justice” favoring Trump loyalists.

The New York Times has explored a “two-tiered system of justice” for celebrities.

John Stewart referred to the system as between privileged and non-privileged folks.

Indeed, polling is often on whether there is a two-tiered system of justice for the powerful or the privileged or the political class.

After the hearing, Rep. Goldman had an even more stark tiered argument. He told MSNBC that there is a two-tiered system of system with one tier occupied entirely by Hunter Biden:

“Based on my experience, I’m shocked that Hunter Biden was even charged with these crimes. If you look at the history of civil and criminal enforcement of tax issues, and just look at Roger Stone’s case. He —he effectively did the same thing as Hunter Biden, and he simply paid a fine. So the fact that he’s even taking a plea deal in my mind demonstrates a two-tiered system of justice against Hunter Biden, not at all in favor of Donald Trump or the Republicans.”

Hunter has his own tier in Goldman’s variant. In that alternative construction, Hunter is the victim and these respected whistleblowers (and at least one FBI agent) are upset that justice could not be more perverted against this class of one.

Of course, if the effort was to distract, the objections succeeded as shown by this column. We are discussing something other than the shocking disclosures made by these whistleblowers. Indeed, Rep. Lee insisted that the use of the term itself was a distraction . . .  by Republicans:

“Republican efforts to use the term two-tier justice is to distract from those who are truly the victims of a disparate treatment in our criminal justice system, and whether we say it out loud or not, we all know who those people are.”

So the use of the term in discussing the Hunter Biden investigation was really an effort to distract the public from racial inequality. If that seems unlikely, it was no more implausible than ranking members Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) saying that what occurred in this case was entirely “normal.”



42 thoughts on “Is Referring to a “Two-Tiered Legal System” Racially Insensitive Outside of a Civil Rights Context?”

  1. Those who attack our sacred Two-Tiered System of Justice must be silenced and placed in detention camps. To permit such attacks undermines the very foundations of our Banana Republic.

  2. “Get the hell away from black people.”

    “Black people are a hate group.”

    – Dilbert



    The vast American Welfare State is built on a foundation of phantom guilt and unconstitutional lies like hoodoo, but, as revealed in the Skeleton Key, the hoodoo only works if you believe it.

  4. Thank you, Professor Turley for telling us Republicans have hijacked another term developed for Blacks.

    A few years back the Right-To-Lifers presumed Blacks wouldn’t mind if ‘Black Lives Matter’ became ‘All Lives Matter’. As though a little slogan theft is perfectly acceptable when done for a ‘good cause’.

    And now we’re supposed to link Two Tier Justice with Hunter Biden. Like Blacks are totally receptive to having to muddying the term for a rightwing talking point. Because, after all, demonizing Hunter is crucial to Trump’s reelection bid.

    And surely Blacks want a restoration of Trump’s presidency. Never mind that Trump attempted to nullify Blacks votes in his unsuccessful attempt to steal the 2020 election.

    What’s more, Blacks shouldn’t think, for a moment, that Two Tier Justice could be applied to Trump’s continuous efforts to override indictments because they interfere with his 2024 campaign.

    You see Trump’s campaign is so important to America that he shouldn’t have answer to any criminal charges. Trump is a billionaire. That should mean something! Billionaires shouldn’t have to answer to petty offenses like armed coup attempts. Not in this America!

    1. Pssstt!
      Your TDS is showing.

      I am a registered Independent.
      Did not vote for Trump in either 2016 or 2020. S. Meyer and I had a interesting conversation about it.
      But if Trump is the Republican candidate in 2024, I will vote for him.
      And if he wins, it is going to be so much fun watching your TDS kick into overdrive. 🙂

    2. “Republicans have hijacked another term developed for Blacks.”

      Someone needs to learn some history.

      The concept of two- (or multi-) tiered legal system goes back to at least ancient Rome. It was the essence of feudalism during the Dark/Middle Ages.

  5. It isn’t a two-tiered justice system, or four-tiered, or just “unequal” but rather an ad hoc system. It makes uses of the flimsiest of arguments and misapplies principles to get a needed result.

    So, bring a sensible complaint and have it tossed for lack of standing — “standing” is an excellent tool for ad hoc justice. Or send the complaint to the most unfriendly jurisdiction possible, assemble a jury of the least mentally capable people one can find, assign a “wind-up” judge, lose evidence, allow the smashing of subpeonaed computers and cell phones, hide exculpatory evidence, carefully manage press leaks, classify evidence as being so sensitive it must be kept secret.

    That justice is occasionally done is simply by accident.

  6. I must have missed the memo. When did the rules of language change to, “*YOU* can’t say that, only *WE* can!” ?

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