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The term “star chamber” has fallen out of use over the last few decades, but it was a common term used by the American Left in the 20th century. They would use it when arguing that the courts were acting arbitrarily. Other times they would use it in the context of public opinion when one of their guys was in trouble. The point was that the media was being unfair to their guy. Star chambers were bad so anything with those words associated with it must be bad too.
The Star Chamber was a real thing. It was an English court setup in the 15th century to oversee cases involving socially and political important people. This court was staffed with advisors to the king. This way the judges would not be intimidated by the status of the accused. No one knows for sure how it got the name “star chamber” but the most popular theory says it comes from the decorations. The ceiling was painted with gold stars on a blue background.
Of course, like all government power, it was soon abused by the people wielding it to first attack their enemies in court and then to suppress dissent. The main reason it was subverted into an instrument of oppression is it lacked due process. There was no appealing the decisions of the court and since it operated by its own rules, there could be no appeal to a fixed set of rules. This allowed the king to use the system to persecute his enemies and stamp out dissent.
It is why up until the last few decades, the American court system was based on a fixed set of rules that governed all courts. This was ensured by an appeals system that ended with the Supreme Court. Forgotten today, the primary purpose of the Supreme Court was to make sure the court system followed the rules, the primary source of which is the Constitution itself. The courts being open to the public was an additional check on abuse of the legal system by the powerful.
The reason “star chamber” has fallen out of fashion in America is the Left has seized control of the institutions, including the centers of cultural production. They no longer look at the abuse of power as a problem because they have all the power so by definition all uses of power are justified. Note that their objections to the secret courts created after 9/11 were ceremonial and halfhearted. In reality they welcomed this new tool they could use in pursuit of their agenda.
Note also that the only thing we know about these secret courts is they were used against Donald Trump in the 2016 election. To date no one has produced an example of how these courts prevented terrorism. The documented abuses of these secret courts by the FBI have gone unaddressed. Because the courts are secret, we have no idea what goes on inside them, so there is no way to know they are not being used against dissidents in the same way they were used against Trump.
Putting that aside, the court system we can see is also going through a transformation toward the Star Chamber model. Again, Trump provides some examples. In his Florida case the court has warned him about making public statements. There is the threat of a gag order hanging over him. In Washington, Jack Smith has asked the court for what amounts to a gag order on Trump. In Georgia, Trump cancelled a press conference about the case for fear of retribution from the court.
Since we get our information about court proceedings from the media and the media is now an agent of the state, it is not hard to see why proscribed people would want to have their say outside the courthouse. The only chance for fairness in the courtroom now is for the accused to make his appeals outside the courthouse. Naturally, the courts now wish to stifle such conduct. If they can gag the accused, he cannot shine a light on the abuses inside the court through appeals to the public.
This is not just a phenomenon in high profile political cases. Increasingly, local judges and prosecutors are doing the same thing. Here is a case of a famous college football player accused of heinous crimes. If you read between the lines, he was framed by the cops but was forced to remain quiet in order to get out of the case. He comes from money and his father is famous, but none of that matters in a court system that is increasingly the tool of arbitrary state power.
The difference between the rule of law and rule by men is that the former has a clear and precises set of rules open to the public, while the latter is based on the momentary whims of the people who wield power. The proliferation of laws along with a proliferation of ways to interpret the laws has made everything illegal. No one can now list all of the federal crimes on the books. As a result, most people are breaking the law every day of their life without knowing it.
The reason this matters is one of the predicates for social upheaval, like civil wars and revolutions, is the collapse of trust in the law. The Star Chamber system, for example, ended with the English Civil War. The American Revolution was, in part, a response to the collapse of legal authority. The American Civil War was due, in part, to a collapse in trust by both sides in the courts fairly dealing with the slavery issue. The legal system no longer provided a solution to disputes.
When no one trusts the law or the legal system, no one has a reason to obey the rules, much less respect the system that creates them. Put another way, when everyone is in violation of the law, then everyone is motivated to live outside the law. This is the fundamental definition of the outlaw. He is an outlaw because he rejects the system of laws and therefore exists outside the law. This is also the starting place for every revolutionary and revolutionary movement.
In the end, the test of a legal system is the test of a society. That is, how much protection does it provide to those with the least power. A society that provides only protection to the powerful is a tyranny. A legal system that provides no protection to those without power from those with power is also a tyranny. The Star Chamber became the symbol of tyrannical rule because it was the instrument of tyranny, just as our legal system is today.
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