Justice isn’t your team winning or losing

Published 12:54 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

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It seems a lot of us don’t understand our judicial system or what justice truly means.

Over the years, many have come to believe that justice is when they or their tribe win in a courtroom. If they lose, they feel an injustice has occurred.

There have been many momentous courtroom cases in our history. Few have received as much attention as two cases in recent weeks that affected the tribes of families at the highest level. If you don’t know which two I’m thinking of, then you’re so far out of the loop that no explanation will bring you back.

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I’m lamenting this, as with so many facets of our lives these days, because we have lost our sense of how to look at and understand justice.

First and foremost, it is not a sports event. It’s not about one side winning or losing. You can’t rally around a case and then believe the system is broken or that you were cheated if your team is convicted. You can be upset, for sure. You can even go on social media and rant about it. But justice is a system of arbitration involving a jury of peers, a judge and lawyers who are obligated to treat people impartially, fairly, properly and reasonably under the law.

If that system finds that harm was done, it decides on a remedial action to balance the scales of justice.

If you are caught breaking the law, there are consequences for your actions. Many people don’t like the part about consequences.

For example, lots of us fail to fully stop at an intersection where a stop sign or traffic signal is located. We know we should because lives are at risk, but we have a variety of excuses–no one is coming, no one is watching. But what is the usual reaction when a government entity decides to install cameras merely to enforce the law requiring that we stop and save lives? “Outrage.” “Government overreach.” “Invasion of privacy.”

That our main branches of government, including judicial, are widely unpopular today doesn’t mean they aren’t serving us well. Just because you don’t want to pay your share of taxes doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a well-staffed IRS. And yes, every branch of government has its share of low-performing staff. A few judges fall short of the mark, and when some members of Congress break laws, they must be held accountable.

There is enormous civic satisfaction in serving on a jury, but some folks work hard to avoid it. (I’ve served on two.) When we ask everyday folks to serve on a jury and decide whether a citizen has violated our laws, we must respect their final decision. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with it, but accept it we must.

We can’t keep our envied democracy that we have enjoyed since the nation began if we refuse to abide by the tenet that the rule of law is what holds the fabric of our nation together. Without it, we will become an uncivilized country.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com