If you want progress, challenge authority


Next to heavy beef subsidies and baseball, there is nothing more American than dodging Johnny Law’s punches. There is a reason why we idolize Al Capone and the bootleggers of yore, John Dillinger and fearless bank robbers of his day. Allow me to clarify that I, and most Americans, probably would not endorse such criminal acts nor the violence that often follows suit. That being said, there is a reason why shows and movies that feature an antihero as their protagonist — like Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Public Enemy — captivate us so. We love watching an underdog challenge all forms of authority in their lives. The United States was born from the ashes of a revolution! We are old hands at challenging authority. While the age of muskets and revolution has given way to police departments with bomb-proof personnel carriers and a comparatively disarmed population, it is still our responsibility as citizens to challenge authority.

Our fight, just like the majority of our ancestors, lies within the courtroom. Just a few months ago, Obergefell v. Hodges saw the end to state bans on gay marriage. This landmark civil rights case will be remembered alongside Brown v. Board of Education and Shelby County v. Holder, both of which formed the vanguard for the Civil Rights Movement. Obviously these were all landmark Supreme Court cases, the scale and scope of which are beyond measure in terms of how much they reformed and improved the judicial system and American life in general, but none of these enormous changes would have taken place the way they did had some American decided not to challenge authority. These cases encapsulate the idea of progress at the deepest level because they have reshaped our legal system to accommodate it. Thus one could say that challenging authority is an integral part of the process of progress.

Now lets go back to antiheroes. We can suspend our code of ethics temporarily and love them because they challenge authority and make their own rules. To a (very small) degree, I think we all need to channel our inner antihero more.

I was chatting with my uncle at a family wedding last weekend, and he told me a story about one of his lawyer friends — for his sake let’s refer to him as “Joe.” Now Joe really enjoys his business trips to Amsterdam, and he has one coming up. Briefcase in hand, Joe strolls into the airport, and straight to security. Just as he is putting his belt back through his pant loops on the other side of the metal detectors, he hears it: “Sir, is this your computer bag?” The TSA Officer motions Joe to follow him to a special holding room where he is soon confronted by two police officers holding his bag and what appears to be a zip lock bag with a few nuggets of last night’s leftover marijuana. Joe’s life is about to become a country song. He faces disbarment and the divorce and depression that comes with it. All Joe needs to do at this point is flip his truck off the interstate. Needless to say, Joe is rapidly losing bowel control — and then he thinks of it: the Hail Mary. “I have a license for that, but I accidentally left it in my hotel,” he calmly stated. The police officers proceed to leave the room after a few clarifying questions. They come back 10 minutes later and tell Joe he is free to go. They keep his weed. Presumably, the officers were too “busy” to challenge Joe’s claim that he left his medical marijuana license at the hotel.

Joe literally challenged those two officers to prove that they were not completely lazy and he won. This small challenge to authority has some large ramifications: First, it saved Joe’s life from becoming a country song. He is a good man who defends his clients’ land from unfair eminent domain claims. Second, it kept another harmless citizen out of our criminal justice system for violating a stupid law. Third, it allowed those officers to focus on much more important things (probably).

I have one more story that captures the benefits to challenging authority, and I heard it from my Uber driver yesterday.

After complimenting my driver on his brand new Prius, he explained that a woman in a minivan ran a red light and T-boned his old car. The woman claimed she was a part of a funeral procession and therefore she could legally run the red light — and according to Maryland Code Ann. § 21-207, you actually can. Needless to say, my Uber driver was livid that he was technically at fault for being smashed into. The problem was that the police arrived half an hour after the wreck. My driver swore to me that there was no procession — the woman couldn’t even name what funeral parlor she was coming from or what cemetery she was going to. Allegedly after only five minutes of questioning, the police wrote him a ticket for failing to yield and drove off. This Uber driver already hired a lawyer and plans to contest his ticket. It is my fondest hope that this man is successful in his crusade against this stupid law.

As underwhelming as these two examples were, they capture how all of us have the ability change our legal system to suit the times. Letting funeral processions run red lights without some sort of incredibly obvious marking on every vehicle is how you make new funerals. Even though my driver’s case is built around the fraud potential of this law, it just might save a life.

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