It was only four months ago when Arizona’s Commission on Appellate Court Appointments rejected Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for a seat on the state Supreme Court. The commission cited concerns that Montgomery lacks the basic fairness and impartiality required of a supreme court justice. Rather than a commitment to equality and respect for the rule of law, Montgomery brought a highly-politicized record of protecting the powerful and punishing the weak.
With Phoenix still reeling from police violence and revelations that dozens of active officers have made racist, violent, or hateful social media posts, many of which targeted Muslims directly, our community needs new Supreme Court justice who will help rebuild, not further erode, public trust in our justice system. The Commission got it right when it rejected Montgomery the first time, and it should again rebuff Montgomery in his second bid for one of the most powerful positions in Arizona.
Our state’s Supreme Court is entrusted to protect the equal rights of all Arizonans, an especially vital function for vulnerable and historically marginalized groups who lack political power. Justices must be objective and unbiased with a commitment to equality for all people. Montgomery, in contrast, has used his power to perpetuate the hateful and deeply damaging biases vividly depicted in the recently exposed law enforcement Facebook posts.
In 2014, Montgomery hired disgraced former FBI agent and anti-Muslim conspiracy-theorist John Guandolo to conduct an anti-terrorism training for local law enforcement. Guandolo has claimed that mosques are “organizing for armed confrontation with law enforcement,” spread rumors that high-ranking government officials are secretly working for the Muslim Brotherhood and most recently had a restraining order placed against him for assaulting a fellow sheriff who disagreed with Guandolo’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and strategies.
Local Muslim leaders, the ACLU and Arizona’s chapter of the Anti-Defamation League all objected strongly and publicly, leading both the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to decline to participate in the training. But in a truly disturbing response, Montgomery not only dismissed those concerns and held the training event in 2014, he doubled down on Guandolo. Between December 2015 and February 2017, Montgomery funneled $70,000 to the Arizona Police Association for additional Guandolo-led seminars.
Now the social media postings by Phoenix police uncovered by the Plainview Project confirmed our worst fears: the kind of attitudes Guandolo espoused have taken root with those who are charged with protecting us. Phoenix police officers called for banning the Quran, told Michelle Obama to leave the country and “take your gay Muslim husband with you,” and accused Muslims of being rapists and killers.
Racism and bias within law enforcement poses a real and imminent threat to our safety. We cannot trust officers with a history of violence and prejudice to fairly patrol and protect our communities, and we cannot allow those who have enabled this bigoted, us-vs-them culture of policing to hold positions of power.
Elected county attorneys like Bill Montgomery have enormous influence over policing, through their decisions whether to prosecute cases involving officers who have demonstrated racial bias, dishonesty or a tendency toward violence, and in the tone they set for law enforcement. And while many Phoenix leaders have sought to condemn the attitudes and actions of the officers who made hateful social media posts, Montgomery has remained silent. Rather, he has helped foster the attitudes and perceptions that have now surfaced very publicly.
Most troubling for a Supreme Court candidate, he seems unable to recognize where he has failed, admit wrongdoing, or consider perspectives not his own. Last month before the Judicial Selection Commission on behalf of the Muslim community, I stated that “instead of shielding us from hate, Bill Montgomery in 2014 brought the hate to our homes.”
Our community’s demands for accountability and reform require sweeping change and a variety of policy solutions, but among them is ensuring that Bill Montgomery, the elected prosecutor and top law enforcement official in Phoenix, is not appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court. To choose him now would only further stoke the mistrust of public leadership that is at a near boiling point.
Bill Montgomery wasn’t the right choice in March, and it’s even more clear that he isn’t the right choice now.