The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that courtroom bailiffs in Kent County, Maryland violated a Black defendant’s right to an impartial jury by wearing “Thin Blue Line” facemasks during his criminal trial. The August decision relied heavily on an amicus brief authored by Brown, Goldstein & Levy attorney and Public Justice Center (PJC) 2021-2022 Francis D. Murnaghan Fellow Michael Abrams.
The brief explained how symbols associated with race and racism can prime implicit bias. It then provided background on the “Thin Blue Line” concept, the flag’s rise to prominence as a symbol for white supremacy, and the particular history of racism on the Eastern Shore, including the anti-racist activism organized by local community groups there today. Altogether, the brief showed that racism remains so salient that the mere presence of the “Thin Blue Line” symbol in the courtroom, on a law enforcement officer, risked biasing the jury. The brief was joined by the ACLU of Maryland, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Baltimore Action Legal Team, Showing Up for Racial Justice Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, and Social Action Committee for Racial Justice (a prominent Eastern Shore community group).
Michael joined BGL in September 2022, where he represents clients in various appeals, civil rights, criminal, commercial litigation, and employment matters. During his time as the PJC Murnaghan Fellow, Michael presented oral argument and filed principal briefs and cert petitions – in addition to authoring amicus briefs – in state and federal courts, seeking to enforce civil rights and advance racial equity at the appellate level.