Author: Glen Aaron
Author: Glen Aaron
Several themes run through Glen Aaron's ambitious debut novel that follows the story of Tommy Jon, a brilliant Jicarilla Apache, who graduated from Harvard Law School and upon his graduation is invited to clerk for Supreme Court justice, Anton Sacerdozio along with two other clerks, Tim Bulgari and Catherine Welch.
Tommy and Catherine are lovers and in the opening scene we are informed that Catherine is pregnant, which causes quite a stir particularly that Sacerdozio is a pro-life proponent. The result is that Catherine is excommunicated from the judge's chambers as a result of her having an abortion.
It is also disclosed that Sacerdozio is a strong believer in the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that was promulgated by European monarchies to legitimize the lands outside of Europe. From the mid- fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century, this permitted various European entitles to seize lands inhabited by indigenous peoples under the guise of discovery.
Tommy was assigned by the judge to examine an important decision in the landmark case, Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) which enshrined the doctrine as the basis for the USA to have title to all Native American lands. Consequently, the question to be examined is how can the USA have a duty to care for Indian lands when it negotiates such disputes as mining contracts. The judge's position is “the Indian nations were not a party to the Constitution, so how can it be said they are a dependent of the government, that they have a constitutional right as a dependent, and we, therefor have a duty to them in negotiating mining contracts and monitoring mining company operations.?” Tommy vigorously disagrees with the arrogance of the judge and his condescending attitude towards him.
Soon to be heard before the Supreme Court is a case involving the Eagle Coal & Oil Inc involving damages for polluting Indian lands through strip mining, which the company lost at the trial level exposing it to $635 million in damages if the court does not reverse the decision of the lower court. There is another case pending before the Supreme Court involving the Apache Nation v. United States, where Eagle Coal & Oil persuaded Congress to enter into a land swap of public lands used by the Apache for religious and ceremonial purposes. As a side note, Eagle Coal is owned by Samuel Sėbastien, a very close friend of Sacerdozio. Sėbastien owns the Indian Hot Springs Ranch in the beautiful desert wilds of far mountainous West Texas on the Rio Grande and it is here where he offers to hold for the Judge and his three clerks of the previous year and three for the forthcoming year as well as others a retreat. It is also here where after all of the guests have arrived that Sacerdozio is found dead floating in one of the hot springs pools. Tommy is accused of murdering the judge based on a single identification made by his colleague Tim Bulgari who claims he saw him running away from the pool where the judge was found dead. Tommy is eventually brought to trial and Aaron devotes several chapters to the proceedings with its interesting twists and turns. One familiar point that was brought up and that was drummed into my head when I was a law student is the power of procedural law which is what the judge says you can enter into evidence and what you cannot, or what you can say and what you cannot. Many cases are won or lost based on procedure.
Also thrown into the novel are the workings of a secret religious society, Opus Dei that wants to expand its influence in doing God's work into Congress and it appears that in the judiciary they had on their side, Sacerdozio.
By now you are probably saying, wow, there is quite a bit to chew on here and can the author pull it all together? Although, Aaron is a good story teller he falls into the trap of too much telling and not enough showing. In addition, the novel would have been better written if he stuck to one or two themes rather than try to throw in several. On the other hand, I commend him on his expansive research and bringing to the forefront many topics that the majority of the population has little knowledge of nor do they care about particularly the century old prejudice concerning Native American rights, the undue influence of religious groups and various lobbyists on Congress, the Senate and even the Judiciary. A quote that I often refer to and which Aaron likewise mentions is that made by the retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter who stated that are greatest danger today is the disease of ignorance, misunderstanding and suspicion that we are experiencing today. Need I have to say more when we consider the ravings and ranting of the President of the USA?