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Published:June 26th, 2007 03:50 EST

Double Standards Double Standards

By Erin Strange

One thing that most Americans would probably profess to deplore would be the idea of unequal treatment under their government. The United States` tradition of the struggle to define and create true equality would point to such a concern being paramount in its citizens` minds. Men having the right to vote while women went without suffrage; a Native American defined as less than a white person under the law; "separate but equal" public education for black Americans: all these unjust double standards have given rise to struggles and great victories for the ideal of an United States with equal rights for all. Yet, it is clear that the struggle against governmental special treatment for the few cannot be laid aside as a relic of the American past.

A handful of situations that have captured media attention in recent weeks amply prove this. From the calls for the presidential pardon of convicted administration aide, Lewis Libby, to the tabloid darling, Paris Hilton`s, having her jail term commuted to house arrest at her palatial Los Angeles home, to an Albuquerque, New Mexico student`s failing grade being raised by an administrator-- apparently under the influence of his locally powerful parents-- it has been evident to this writer that special treatment is still an important problem here. For a country that split from England because of a double standard of government treatment that made colonists into lesser citizens, we seem to forget, on a regular basis, that no one citizen of this democracy is legally entitled to more rights than anyone else.

Use this simple test to judge the constitutional nature of any one person`s legal treatment in this country: just put yourself, your child, or your next-door neighbor in that powerful person`s place. Would you, he or she receive comparable treatment? If the answer is no, you have found another example of a double standard, an example of preferential treatment that should not be tolerated. Explore the aforementioned examples of double standards below.

Imagine that you suffered from the same unknown medical affliction that seems to affect the L.A. heiress, Paris Hilton, and were convicted of driving under the influence of drugs and sentenced to a month in prison. Do you imagine that you would have your sentence commuted to house arrest after a mere three days behind bars, simply because the jail wardens had had enough of your erratic behavior? Plenty of ill people are living on death row in this country, having received no special consideration for their afflictions.

Picture that your middle-aged, next-door neighbor, a successful and respected man, had been convicted by a grand jury of perjury, false statements to federal agents, and obstructing a federal investigation. Do you imagine that he would be considered to be on the short list for a presidential pardon, as Lewis Libby`s supporters have agitated for him to be?

The final example is a local case from my hometown. A senior in an Albuquerque High School was given a failing grade by his English teacher and told that he would not be able to graduate. Despite having received multiple notifications to this effect from the school, the student`s parents, a former member of the local board of education and a city councilor, appealed to district authorities when both the teacher and the school principal stood fast behind the grade given to the student. A supervisor, in a decision upheld by the superintendent of schools, changed the grade to a passing one in May, and the student graduated with his class. A state investigation concluded last week that the supervisor "exerted undue influence" in the student`s case, ruling in favor of the teacher.

Do you imagine that your child, if he failed his senior English class after multiple accommodations, would be able to gain the ear of powerful people in the school district who could reverse his teacher`s decision? Do you suppose that you, as a parent, would be able to successfully argue that the same number of notifications that were enough to properly inform other parents were not sufficient to alert you of your child`s failing grade? And if picturing yourself in these situations is not enough to make your blood boil, then take things a little farther.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn`t speak English fluently, who does not have the money to hire a battery of attorneys, who does not have a home to be sent to for a comfortable period of house arrest, who doesn`t have a powerful family who can bring their influence to bear, or who has a mental handicap that makes it hard for him or her to understand his or her legal situation. Imagine yourself on the fringes of our democracy, among the people most vulnerable to being hurt by someone else`s special treatment. Especially in this country, complacency about the true injustice of legal double standards is unforgivable.

"Democrats to Bush: Don`t pardon Libby." Kevin Bohn and Paul Courson. Copyright, 4/27/2007.
"Paris Hilton timeline." The Associated Press. Copyright The Associated Press, 6/7/2007.
"New Mexico Public Education Department probe sides with Rio Grande teacher." Susie Gran. Copyright The Albuquerque Tribune, 6/25/2007.
"Raised grade raises ire." Susie Gran. Copyright The Albuquerque Tribune, 5/15/2007.