Kangaroo Court is Now in Session

Dishonorable judges presiding

A kangaroo court is a court that ignores recognized standards of law or justice and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides.

Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Kangaroo court meaning

There are a few competing theories on the meaning of the term kangaroo court. The term could come from the idea of justice jumping over, or leaping forward through proceedings and ignoring evidence; favoring the prosecution. Another theory is that when the courts start and end so quickly, that it’s like they jumped out of nowhere. One etymology column suggests the term came about purely “because a place named Kangaroo sounded comical to its hearers…“. Finally, another possibility is that the phrase could refer to the court being in someone’s pocket, like the pouch of a kangaroo.

I will see to it that you receive a fair trial, after which you will be shot.

General Burkhalter, Hogan’s Heroes

Kangaroo court etymology

The earliest use of the term kangaroo court comes from an article in The Daily Picayune in New Orleans that quotes another publication, the Concordia Intelligencer. The report describes several lynchings instituted “…on charges of the Kangaroo court”, also asking “What is a Kangaroo court, neighbor?“. The term kangaroo court could also have been popularized during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Thousands of Australian-Americans flocked west to seek their fortune. The higher presence of Australian miners, and the prevalence of “claim jumping”, may have led to the term being used to describe the quickly carried out legal proceedings. However, the Oxford English Dictionary fails to recognize these earlier origins and cites the first published instance of the term coming from an American source, A Stray Yankee in Texas by Philip Paxton, published in 1853.

We will now deliberate and return with a guilty verdict.

Judith Draper, 3rd Rock from the Sun

Kangaroo court examples

Joseph Stalin used the state legal system of the USSR to fabricate charges against his political rivals, eliminating any and all challenges to his absolute rule. The public kangaroo court “show trials” in the Soviet Union resulted in the wrongful conviction of Stalin’s former Old Bolshevik revolutionary colleagues.

On July 20th, 1944, Operation Valkyrie failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of Nazi Germany, inside his Wolf’s Lair field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The People’s Court, Volksgerichtshof, of Nazi Germany arrested, tried, convicted, and executed (those who didn’t take their own lives prior) 4,980 people “connected” to the assassination plot. Not all the people brought to the kangaroo court were connected with the plot. The Gestapo used the filmed event for propaganda and to settle scores with people suspected of being sympathetic with the opposition.

After a lengthy trial by the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in Cambodia, Pol Pot and his brother were found guilty of genocide and sentenced to death on August 19, 1979. Neither of the two leaders of the Khmer Rouge were present during the kangaroo court proceedings and after the fact evidence showed conclusively that the verdicts and the sentencing papers had been prepared in advance of the trial.

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