The Law v Justice

Justice is the dark child of what is fair but the law is whatever is written on a white sheet of paper as decided by those in power. Much of the time the two are one in the same [or perhaps in tandem] but too often, they are at the opposite ends of the same sword. In theory, justice is a function of the proper and equitable application of the law. Nonetheless, there is an inherent weakness with respect to any law. This is most clearly presented by the words of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes of the US Supreme Court. When speaking about that which was developed to be the basis of all US laws, namely, the US Constitution, he said, “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”  This truth behind this comment is buttressed by what R.G.H. Siu stated in his book, The Craft of Power:  “The power of the prophet lies not in his bringing the word of God to mankind but in his interpretation as to what the purported word of God means. Truth, it seems, does not determine what the prophet says; instead, what the prophet says determines what truth is. The fight then is over the privilege of interpretation.” To that end, interpretation can distort justice while fully supporting the law. Stated another way, “We are all equal before the law, but not before those appointed to apply it.” Stanislaw J. Lec 

The spirit of the definition of justice is fairness. Now, of course, what is fair is also subject to differing opinions but when it stands in contrast to the law, then it can become obvious.

 That is why, despite the passage of the 13th and 14th amendment to the US Constitution which ended slavery and granted former slaves US citizenship, the Supreme Court, in 1896 determined that the segregation was not in violation of those amendments. In Plessy v Ferguson, the Court decided that Blacks could be excluded from public facilities for Whites as long as there were “equal” facilities for Blacks. “Separate but equal” allowed the interpreters [Justices] to appear to honor the law while perpetrating an injustice. Fifty-eight years later, that same Court [albeit different Justices] determined that “separate but equal” was an injustice and thus reversed Plessy v Ferguson with Brown vs The Board of Education. As another example: After World War II, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East executed Japanese officers for water boarding American POWs. Water boarding was deemed to be torture, except when the Bush-Cheney administration sanctioned it as a useful interrogation tool – [i.e., enhanced interrogation]. The history of this country is replete with other examples of contradictory court decisions or reversals.

In short, Siu, Hughes and Lec tell us all we need to know about law and justice. People in power speak of the “rule of law” or that we are a nation of laws [laws that can be interpreted in more than one way]. We, however, are less a nation of justice. The law is designed to create and maintain order and if fairness is achieved, then fine. If not, then at least it is better than anarchy.  Admittedly, “fairness” is a challenging concept to define and attain but nonetheless, we often know it by its opposite — unfairness. To that end, justice is often a by-product and not the aim of the law.

By extension, it could correctly be stated that the law is more the servant of the rich and powerful, and the task master of the poor — even more so if the poor are non-white. The statue of Lady Justice displays a scale in her left hand and a sword in her right. And, she is blindfolded. The scales are supposed to represent justice because she is blind to the status or position of those who come before her as she weighs the facts. Also, if necessary she will use the sword to execute or punish. I do not see it that way. Lady Justice can see through the blindfold and serves at the pleasure of those who interpret and apply the law.

So, can justice ever prevail as the rule and never the exception? The facts and reality tell us not. Law is easy but justice is not. Nevertheless, it is a goal worth a relentless and myopic pursuit. Otherwise, the law will win and “we the people” will lose.

Published in: on September 9, 2013 at 3:24 AM  Leave a Comment  
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