Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Defining Justice

I ask my students to define "justice." It is a term we use a lot, it is one of the chief cornerstones of our modern liberal state--up there with liberty and equality. It is the purpose of the Constitution, stated in the Preamble: "to establish Justice." Think, also, of the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance: "With liberty and justice for all."
So, what is "Justice"--Is it fairness? How is that defined? Is it playing by the rules? does it matter who establishes the rules? Is it "due process of the law" and if so, does due process have limits?
And, just as importantly, what does justice do? Does it seek truth? Right wrongs? Level the playing field? Allow for equality? Allow for liberties? Enforce any of these?

Justice, is not seeking the truth by all possible means but is a decision best left to the states and their elected officials and the strict following of established criminal justice proceedings. It is "a prompt and considered legislative response" according to Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority in this case that involved an Alaskan man, Osborne, incarcerated for rape and attempted murder. The case and conviction can not be reopened, because, in other words, justice had already been served. Justice is procedural.

[Osborne had asked to test the DNA evidence since DNA technology is much advanced since the time he was convicted. He had even offered to pay for the testing himself. (Pass your cursor over the title of this post will get you the link for the June 19th 5-4 opinion).]


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