In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. The heroine, Kit, is fighting alongside Michael for their right to own land. She makes a passionate argument for respect of the law and begs for fairness within the judicial system:
“While I don’t agree the current law is correct in denying some people land ownership, I do believe in enforcing all laws equally and in the spirit in which they were created.” Kit indicated Michael and herself. “In this case, for the land to belong to people who are willing to work it, contributing to our country’s overall wealth. This Homestead law also sets forth that land ownership should not be concentrated in the name of a few, while the rest of the population labors for token wages.”
“Your honor,” Diego sneered. “What relevance is this to our case?”
“I’ll let her continue.” Judge Hancock waved Diego off.
With ruddy cheeks, Diego tugged on his jacket lapels and glowered at her.
Confidence strengthened her spine. She leveled her finger at Diego. “If you allow this officer of the court to bend the law to increase his personal wealth by virtually robbing people who trust in its fairness, you will undermine the entire country’s homestead system.” She aimed her thumb toward the rapt courtroom listeners. “Then what’s the point in anyone respecting the law? Why won’t each person claim land at gunpoint, spending the rest of his years defending the land instead of working it? Where is the promise of this country if we allow the legal system to be abused in this manner by a lone individual?”
Even if the law couldn’t help Papa, her insights might—just might—bear out Michael’s case if she presented a clear argument. Heart pounding, Kit slid the scarf from her shoulders.
“The San Francisco court kept their decision uncomplicated: a son should inherit the land his father claimed and worked,” she said. “Is it proper that this court simply overturns that court based on the testimony of a solitary man whose motives are suspect?”
“Your honor.” Diego hammered his knuckles on the wooden surface in a continuous beat.
She ignored his interruption. “What will keep another court from overturning this court? Won’t it only end when the courts themselves respect the rulings of their fellow judges upholding the true spirit of the law?”
Sweeping her arm toward the agape crowd, Kit raised her voice. “Otherwise, the rest of us will simply function outside the law, developing special rules to suit our situations. Only if you ratify the rulings of other courts will we be able to rely on uniform justice. Then we can work our land, trusting that a wealthy individual with political connections we don’t have, cannot take it from us capriciously. Isn’t that what this country is about?”
Image Courtesy of Calisphere Project