Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thomas v. Mundell (9th Cir. - July 15, 2009)

You don't get many "separate but equal" cases nowadays. So check this one out.

It's a case that ultimately gets dismissed on Article III standing grounds, and for understandable reasons. But check out the facts. Basically, Maricopa County (Arizona) has three separate DUI courts; a "regular" (read: white) court, a "Spanish-speaking" DUI court, and a "Native American" DUI court. The various courts have different procedures and, allegedly, divergent results. For example, the Spanish-speaking DUI court is presided over by a single judge, who's allegedly very lenient, and the Native American DUI court allegedly sends people off to sweat lodges and the like in a way that doesn't happen in the regular court.

Is that okay? Becuase we dismiss this one for lack of standing, we may never know. The Spanish-speaking court, to me, is the most troubling. On the one hand, it may well make administrative sense to have Spanish speakers in a single court in order to facilliate translation and the like, and may also make sense to assign a Spanish-speaking judge there. But when people of Category X get a particular judge, the particular preferences of that judge then categorically benefit or disadvantage that group, as well as individuals who are not in Category X. So while it makes sense, there are serious equity problems as well. Hence the real issue. Ditto for the Native American DUI court, though because there are fewer allegations with respect to that one here, I can't really tell how it operates.

So this is definitely a troubling regime, and one well worth thinking about.