A line from the title song of the musical relates that “You’re doing fine, Oklahoma; Oklahoma, OK!” The Sooner State received its nickname as settlers in 1889 lined up at the border to make claims to Native American lands under the Indian Appropriations Act before it went into effect.
In 2018, John K. Stitt, a Republican, was elected governor, becoming the first ever Native American to achieve that distinction. Stitt is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation through his grandfather.
In December 2021, Stitt sued the US and Pentagon for an injunction against a vaccine mandate for National Guard members. Five other GOP-led states joined in the action, which was summarily dismissed at the end of the same month by a federal judge in Oklahoma as “without merit,” noting that the Pentagon was well within its authority to determine the readiness of members in military service. The judge cited George Washington’s smallpox mandate and the existing nine vaccine mandates for military service as precedents.
However, right- and left-coast pundit snickerers need to consider getting in line like the sooner settlers. Three years ago, the state legalized medical marijuana and set some low-level capital investment requirements to open a weed business. To date, there are 1,936 growers and outlets–49 for every 100,000 residents. At those proportions, marijuana smoke signals may shortly cover Oklahoma should the legislature make consumption generally legal.
Perhaps Governor Stitt may propose legalizing the weed as pain relief for needle punctures from vaccines.
In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 7-1 ruling (Plessy v. Ferguson) upheld the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, which permitted railroads to segregate passengers according to race. Homer Plessy was forcibly removed from a rail car because he admitted he was not white. Ultimately, Mr. Plessy was found guilty by Judge John Ferguson and fined $25.00. Plessy passed away on March 1, 1925.
But people and history can often remember what is forgotten by many. In 2004, Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer, met a documentary filmmaker, Phoebe Ferguson, a great-great granddaughter of Judge Ferguson. In 2009, the two joined forces to create The Plessy and Ferguson Foundation to preserve Homer Plessy’s legacy and influence, how it is taught in schools and commemorated. The organization petitioned New Orleans to hold an annual Homer Plessy Day on June 7 and to rename a stretch of Press Street as Homer Plessy Way. A plaque explaining his act of civil disobedience now stands on the spot where he was arrested.
In 2006, the Pelican State passed the Avery C. Alexander Act, named for a long-time civil rights activist and legislator, which permitted clearance of criminal and civil records of those convicted of violating segregationist laws. Last November, the Louisiana Board of Pardons forwarded its recommendation to the governor for a pardon.
On January 5, 2022, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the letter of pardon, expunging a blot from Jim Crow more than a century old, a reminder of the length of the arc of justice. A more detailed account can be found here: https://voxfairfax.com/2020/03/02/homer-plessy-passed-march-1-1925/.
Every one of the nation’s states, sooner or later, faces a moment of comeuppance in regard to a painful tale involving its criminal justice system. On December 19, 2021, the Garden State’s highest court vacated the conviction of a mother imprisoned since 2016 in the murder of her son.
In 1991, the 5-year old disappeared at a Memorial Day carnival when his mother left him unattended for a brief few minutes. Massive searches were undertaken along with a milk carton photo campaign, but to no avail. Several months after the disappearance, the child’s sneaker was found and later his remains in an area near his mother’s employment.
As is common, the police suspected the mother, especially because her repeated retelling of the separation and disappearance had inconsistencies. Suspicions were heightened when three witnesses linked a blanket found with the remains as belonging to the mother.
As time passed, the single mother had moved to Florida with two other sons when, in 2014, she was arrested by NJ police. On the basis of the evidence presented, a jury found her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and she was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Several interim appeals were unsuccessful, until the state’s highest court ruled 4-3 in December 2021 that the evidence did not support the jury’s decision. The mother’s defense attorneys had argued that there was no forensic evidence connecting the mother to the murder of the child.
This story is tragic for all concerned. The life of a family has been shattered while public confidence in criminal justice as a societal protection drops a notch.