We are bombarded by concerns about justice, social and otherwise, but what is justice? Apparently, it is a lot like beauty. One man’s justice is another man’s injustice. For a moment consider what it takes to claim to be a just and fair nation operating under the rule of law. Then consider how far we can stray as one segment or another of society and the legal system move from a common ideal to their preferred approach.
“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” A declaration by President Obama he did not intend to allow the Congress to slow down his administration as he did those things he thought would strengthen his position, the position of his party, the position of his supporters, and perhaps the United States. At the time, I remember thinking, “Boy, that is a bad idea, because he is setting a standard for his successor.” As we enter this new era where President-elect Trump will enter the oval office we can expect a huge outcry from the left as he carries on and perhaps expands the tradition of rule by executive order.
The past eight years have seen the administration use the full scope of its executive branch to attack its political opponents. Remember the time the IRS set out to restrict tax exempt status for conservative organizations? How about the time the DOJ has injected itself into state investigations to make sure the President’s agenda was pushed, or the time they sold assault weapons to the cartels? Most recently we hear a report of a “rogue” employee for Homeland Security attempting to hack into the state of Georgia’s election system. Sorry, but that rogue employee ruse was used by the IRS so there is little credibility remaining with this administration. All these things, once created, will remain. We’ve already seen the President-elect’s staff ask for the names of bureaucrats and scientists who have been at the leading edge of pushing the climate change data President Obama labeled as his top agenda item.
The funny thing is there are those on the right who are comfortable with this. The same people who were uncomfortable when the Obama administration began the process are now on-board. Just as interesting is the outrage of the left, who were completely on-board with the previous administration. In both cases, we are moving further and further from where the rule of law holds our society together.
Let’s talk about laws for a moment. I imagine most pre-millennials will remember the Schoolhouse Rock, series that explained in simple terms how an idea progressed into a law. But that is only 1/3 of the equation. For a law to be effective it must be administered fairly and judged impartially. I am afraid we are seeing a breakdown in both the exercise of enforcement, and the impartiality of the judicial system that is charged with the administration of the law. There are a number of possible examples, but for this purpose I will look at gun control, since it provides the most heated approach on both sides of the center.
One the one hand there are those who would want absolutely no control over the ownership and use of any kind of fire arm, on the opposite extreme there are those who would like to see all guns removed from American civil society. I think even this extreme still sees the need for guns in the military and perhaps the police, but for everyone else gun ownership should be illegal. Both extremes are very small percentages, but at the end of the day they seem to be the loudest heard. Holding aside the debate regarding our right to own guns, let’s only look at would a new law make the possibility of gun violence less?
Those who favor more gun control will obviously say yes, those who oppose, no. The problem is a law is only words on a paper. It falls to the humans who are involved in enforcement, the politicians who control and fund them, and the judges and juries who make a determination on application for a law to have any effect. We never hear about the complexity of making a law work all we ever hear about is “we need a new law,” or “no, we don’t need a new law.”
Over the past eight years we have seen the DOJ selectively break or enforce the laws on gun control, and then stonewall the Congress as they investigated their actions. Individual acts aside, there has got to be an overall negative affect on the general population over the impartiality of the DOJ on this issue. Then at the state and local levels we have seen the enforcement of the existing laws expand or contract depending on the politicians and their political affiliations. If enforcement of the law is not uniform it can’t be effective, when this is the case no law on earth is worth the paper it is written on.
Finally, there is a judicial system that provides a non-uniform application of the law to the defendants brought before the bench. We’ve seen much in the news about the bias of southern courts where a white defendant will receive a lesser sentence then a black, but the same holds true for northern courts as well, it is just not as well published. Another variable is personal judicial bias. It a judge puts their desire for social justice above the fair application of the law they are creating an uneven playing field, to the same degree as a judge who puts race ahead of the facts.
Without a fair and evenly applied enforcement arm, and trusted judicial system, justice is just a word. As we have seen, it appears to be less important to more people each day.