Mark began his legal career by serving four years in the United States Navy Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG), then was a lawyer in Southern California.
Mark was a Deputy County Attorney and a Commissioner of Salt Lake County. He then became an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Utah. He was elected Attorney General in November 2000, and was re-elected in November 2004 and again in November 2008. He is the first Attorney General in Utah to win re-election for a third term. Mark is currently running for the U.S. Senate against Senator Bob Bennett.
Mark is married with five children. He is an Eagle Scout, fluent in Spanish and "Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story" is his first novel. We at Valor Publishing Group invite you to become a fan of Mark's work just as we have.
Valor: Mark, will you share just a little bit about why the Dred Scott case caught your attention?
Mark: As Utah Attorney General I enforce the rule of law to ensure justice to all. One day several years ago while studying famous court cases for a presentation, I re-examined the infamous Supreme Court decision that declared a black man is not a man and has no rights that white man had to respect. I was appalled by such a ruling and intrigued by the question: Who was this man, an illiterate slave, who had the courage and tenacity to persist in the white man’s legal system for eleven years to win his freedom and why wasn’t his personal story known and celebrated by all Americans?
Valor: As an attorney how differently would you have defended Dred Scott?
Mark: Because the grown children of Dred’s first master loved and respected him, they stood by his side against overwhelming opposition and provided the means by which he could access the courts to seek his freedom. They were able to find qualified attorneys who actually won his freedom for a short time from a jury of white southern slave owners, and provide the legal expertise to do an exceptional job through the appellate process. What they couldn’t do was stop politics and judicial activism from getting in the way of a just decision. In speaking about the case with Chief Justice John Roberts, I learned that the greatest lesson for lawyers and judges from the Dred Scott rulings was to not go beyond arguing and adjudicating the specific legal issues in the case, and not try to make law or shape public policy through litigation.
Valor: As Utah’s Attorney General, do you feel you have been true to the spirit of what Dred Scott stood for?
Mark: Yes, absolutely. Exercising police powers of investigation and prosecution is an awesome responsibility handed to me by the people of Utah and that is why I designed my office seal and motto around the Constitution’s promise of ensuring justice which means equal access, opportunity and responsibility under law. Every issue I and my attorneys and police officers confront we weigh in balance the duty to protect the public and secure the rights of every individual regardless of who they are.
Valor: Freedom is a precious gift, although not free, what does freedom mean to you?
Mark: Freedom means an equal opportunity without undue governmental interference to be the very best I can be and to protect and provide for my family and develop and employ my education, talents and experience to add a positive benefit back to society. The heart of the concept that “freedom isn’t free” is a duty to serve and improve the lives of others.
Valor: What is the message you want your readers to walk away from “Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story” with?
Mark: First that Dred Scott was a great American hero who despite the circumstances of his birth would not quit in his effort to secure justice and freedom through the court system. His childhood neighbor, Nat Turner, chose to try to and win freedom by murdering white people; so second, I would hope we will all follow Dred’s example that violence and disobedience to law are never the answer to life’s perceived injustices. Finally that neither Dred, not any of us, can go it alone and need to join together despite our perceived differences and combat injustice wherever we see it.
Valor: Will you please share what you hope to see with the “Cry for Freedom” contest?
Mark: I hope that everyone, whether they put pen to paper and submit an entry, will think hard about what it would be like to lose your freedom, to be treated like an animal, to lose the ability to protect your family, to be denied the ability not just to go wherever and whenever you desire, but to become whatever you want to be. In researching and writing Dred’s story, I was blessed with the ability to put myself in his place and to tremble and cry at a small personal taste of slavery, and to exult in his short-lived taste of freedom. It caused me to rededicate my life to serving others and fighting to protect the rights and freedoms of others. I hope this book and this contest will bring the same experience and commitment to others.
Valor: What do you and Dred Scott have in common?
Mark: Wives who love us, believe in us, and support us despite the fact that others might see our life’s efforts as “tilting at windmills.” We also share a burning faith in the constitutional guarantee emblazoned on the facade of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice under Law,” and a dogged commitment to ensure its application for all. Finally, we both believe in a loving Father in Heaven who guides and inspires the affairs of men and who, while allowing injustice and suffering caused by the evil that men choose to do, nevertheless promises us freedom of the spirit, peace, love and equality in the Courts on High.
Valor: Right now, you are the Attorney General of Utah, where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Mark: Serving the public trust and protecting the rights of the people of Utah as Attorney General and has been the greatest honor in my life. I would hope to be able to take my talents and experience to Washington D.C. and serve my country and the people of Utah with the same passion, energy and commitment in the United States Senate – and still make time for my family, boy scouts, at-risk youth and inspiring others through the written and spoken word.
Valor: And finally, Dred Scott left freedom as the legacy for his children, what legacy do you hope to leave your children?
Mark: That each has been endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and happiness; and an unshakable knowledge of their self-worth, and that in this great free nation, they have the opportunity to be anything they want to be, but they must go out and seize the day and earn it and not expect others to hand it to them. Hopefully, by my example, my children will see that the greatest legacy of free people is to use their talents, education, experience, time and resources to serve and bless the lives of others.
Mark L. Shurtleff is a bright light on the literary horizon. Valor Publishing Group is honored to associate ourselves with an author of Mark's magnitude.
"From the moment I began reading Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story I was rendered breathless by the lyrical, masterful writing of Mark L. Shurtleff. He has literally breathed life into the story of mid-19th century slave Dred Scott who sued for his freedom and changed the course of a nation. This is a must read for every American." ~ Author, Candace E. SalimaIf you belong to a book group, you may find suggested book group questions here.
To read the first two chapters of Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story click here.