The False Infinite (part 9, conclusion)
Solenia Brandenburg was the least tenured judge on the ICC. It was, then, with some trepidation that she viewed her chance to join the handful of other judges presiding over the case of former AU President Erika Gonzalez. Fortunately, much of the stress had been taken out of the situation when the president had entered her guilty plea. All that remained to be done before the judges deliberated over the sentence was to allow the accused to make her final statement.
“Raquel?” the judge called into the anteroom of her chambers. Her clerk appeared a moment later with a pile of papers in her arms.
“It’s this robe. I can never get it to look right. Help me with the stole, will you?
The younger woman adjusted the judicial vestments into a more orderly appearance.
“You can say what you’re thinking, you know. It’s written all over your face anyway,” said the judge.
“I was just thinking that they should do away with these stuffy old clothes altogether. Even the updated versions look about a thousand years old. I mean, we have the most powerful woman in the history of the world here today—under the worst circumstances, granted—but can’t we have done better than this by now?”
Solenia had never been bothered all that much by the robes the ICC still supplied to its judges, although she had to admit that they remained decidedly old-fashioned in spite of several noble attempts to come up with something more fitting for contemporary sensibilities.
“I suppose you’re right, Raquel. I’ve never been much for fashion anyway, so perhaps I haven’t given it very much thought.”
The young clerk was ambitious and eager, but Solenia did not sense in her much regard for the practice of law itself. It was hard to gauge that sort of thing in an interview, but the clerkship would be over at the end of the year. Raquel could go back to climbing the ladder and pleasing her well-connected parents and Solenia would apply the valuable lessons she had learned about vetting clerkship candidates.
The walk from her chambers to the courtroom was a short one. She had to linger in the hallway only a minute or two before the court was called to order and the panel filed in, seating themselves at the elevated bench that overlooked the courtroom. As the chief judge droned out the preliminaries Solenia surveyed the room.
The gallery, not unexpectedly, was completely full. The chief judge had decided to allow one camera crew, a videofeed that would be shared by a pool of news outlets. Solenia had dissented from that choice, but was outvoted. Inexorably her eyes were drawn to the defense table where Erika Gonzalez was seated with her platoon of lawyers. In thinly-veiled contempt for the court, she continued to confer with the lead defense attorney, as if the chief judge were announcing a shuttle schedule or rattling off choices at a cafeteria, rather than making a judicial pronouncement from the bench. After the chief judge finished, he gave each of the other judges on the panel the opportunity to make a statement about the proffer of evidence that had been made by the prosecutors at the same time as the president’s plea.
“Judge Brandenburg, make your statement, if you please” came the gravelly voice from down the bench.
Seniority dictated that Solenia make her statement last, save only for the right of the chief judge to make closing remarks.
“I concur fully with the statements already made by my colleagues, your honor. Thank you.”
The one good piece of advice that Raquel had given her was not to draw out the proceedings with a lengthy statement of her own. The chief judge had given her a mild expression of confusion, but then nodded in agreement. More time for him to “sum up.”
After another speech of considerable length by the chief judge, he addressed President Gonzalez directly.
“Madam President, you may now make your final statement before we retire to deliberate over sentencing. Have you conferred with your attorneys?”
Solenia noticed that the former president wore a very grave, respectful expression at that point as she answered the chief judge in the affirmative.
“And do you wish to make such a statement at this time?” he asked.
“Yes, your honor.”
“Then you may proceed.”
As the former president rose to address the members of the Court, Solenia caught not a hint of hesitation in her demeanor. No small number of convicted defendants had stood before the Court under similar circumstances (though none quite as famous and powerful as Erika Gonzalez) and all of them had shown visible signs of discomfort. There was a distinctly defiant air about this woman, however, that became unmistakable as soon as she began to speak. There would be no begging, no plea for leniency or mercy.
“Your Honors, what I wished to say about the case against me I have already said and what I have wished to admit I have already admitted. The team of prosecutors has been above reproach and I have no complaints as to the fair conduct of these proceedings.”
As President Gonzalez paused, Solenia looked down the bench to her left, scanning the faces of her fellow judges. Everyone seemed very pleased.
“However,” the former president resumed, “I utterly reject the underlying premise of the case against me.”
The room instantly grew so quiet that Solenia was sure she could hear her own heartbeat.
“The Court implicitly asks me whether destroying the remnants of an alien civilization was worth it. Was it worth it to humanity to turn some ancient, alien stonehenge into a pile of rubble? I say that it was and I say it without any hesitation or regret.”
She paused again and shifted her weight as if she were about to step out from behind her table and move about the room. Seeming to realize that such would be too great a breach of courtroom etiquette, she remained in place and continued.
“Humanity cannot and will not be constrained to one planet. We will go anywhere and do whatever it takes to preserve the human race and it is people like me, wielding the full power of government, that will bear humanity’s burden forward into the future. That is why I can stand here today and hold my head high as I accept full responsibility for my actions. I am on the right side of history. I will be vindicated.”
The loud scrape of Erika’s chair across the floor echoed around the room as she retook her seat. It seemed to Solenia that everyone in the room had been waiting to breathe until the accused was finished. A long moment of silence passed in which Solenia realized that Erika Gonzalez had never intended to make anything like the usual defendant’s statement; there was no presidential campaign to stump for, but it had been a political speech nonetheless. Not a word of it had really been intended for the judges to consider in sentencing. That in itself, however, was something Solenia would consider carefully.
“Those may well be great concerns of yours, Madam President,” the chief judge began. “But what this Court must now consider is not the ‘right side of history’, but rather who is on the side of the right. We hope you will come to understand and appreciate the difference. The defendant is now remanded to custody.”
Solenia had no idea whether the chief judge was in earnest. Even in her short time at the ICC she had seen politics force its way into the realm of justice often enough to dispel any remaining starry-eyed notions about her role. But what was the alternative? And what could one person do in such a far-reaching and complex system?
She had no time, however, to ponder those questions deeply. As soon as she led the procession of judges off the bench and into the hallway Raquel met her and began running down her itinerary for the rest of the day. Lunch would be in a mere fifteen minutes and the Science Minister for the AU never liked to be kept waiting.