Activists and protesters alike are outraged after an attorney was sent to jail for wearing a Black Lives Matter pin in the courtroom.
Attorney Andrea Burton was in the middle of defending her client in a Youngstown, Ohio courtroom on Friday, wearing a Black Lives Matter pin on her blazer. Judge Robert Milich demanded that she remove the small badge, according to WKBN 27. After Burton refused to take off the pin, Milich ordered the bailiffs remove her from the courtroom and take her into custody for contempt of court.
Now, activists are arguing that this was a violation of Burton’s First Amendment rights to express her support for the anti-racism movement. “It raises questions for the rest of us, for black lawyers and black defendants, about whether we can feel comfortable that he will separate his beliefs and his work,” said NAACP attorney Kim Akins to the Huffington Post.
Mike Brickner, a senior policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told The Daily Beast that “in a courtroom, it’s a very tightly controlled environment where the judge has pretty wide latitude to control what goes on.” This can include courtroom dress code, especially if the judge finds a piece of your wardrobe distracting.
“A judge doesn’t support either side,” Milich told WKBN, defending his decision. “A judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law…[t]here’s a difference between a flag, a pin from your church or the Eagles, and having a pin that’s on a political issue.”
According to The Daily Beast, Burton had worn her pin for two days prior to Milich asking her to remove the pin. He sentenced her to five days in jail, which activists think is a harsh sentence for a contempt of court charge. Although Burton is currently released since her lawyer filed an appeal, she could still face five days in jail if the appeal is denied, the Huffington Post reports.
“No one wearing an American flag button, no one wearing a crucifix or a Star of David would be removed, so why this particular statement bothered him so much is bothersome,” Akins said, implying that the Judge’s personal opinions could have skewed his judgment.
This is not the first time that Judge Milich has made such a controversial decision. In June 2015, Milich announced that he would not be officiating any marriages after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal. Apparently, he was “confused” as to whether judges had the duty or simply the option to marry same-sex couples, NBC affiliate WFMJ reported at the time.
While Milich argued that the button represented a political issue, president of Youngstown’s NAACP chapter George Freeman Jr. disagreed. “This is just a movement,” said Freeman. “This isn’t on the ballot anywhere. This is a movement. This is totally different.”