The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What's Right, by Rosenbaum, Thane
- ISBN: 9780060735241 | 0060735244
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 7/8/2009
|10 APOLOGY AS MORAL ANTIDOTE TO THE LEGAL DISEASE||179||(15)|
|11 APOLOGIES IN PRACTICE||194||(18)|
|12 RESTORATION OR REVENGE||212||(14)|
|13 REPAIR IN PRACTICE||226||(20)|
|14 THE NON-DUTY TO RESCUE UNDER AMERICAN LAW||246||(12)|
|15 RESCUE AS MORAL IMPERATIVE||258||(8)|
|16 THE LAW'S PREFERENCE FOR THE BODY OVER THE SOUL||266||(19)|
|17 FRUSTRATED LAWYERS AND THE PUBLIC'S DISCONTENT||285||(11)|
|18 THE ARTIST AND THE LAW||296||(17)|
Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What's Right
Doing the Right Thing:
The Split Between The Moral and the Legal
In the motion picture The Verdict (1982), directed by Sidney Lumet from a screenplay written by David Mamet, Paul Newman, playing the role of Frank Galvin, a washed-up,ambulance-chasing, alcoholic attorney desperate for a secondchance, sums up his case to the jury by imploring, and empowering them, to simply do the right thing.
Throughout the film the jurors become witnesses to anavalanche of moral corruption and cynicism -- all courtesy of thelegal system. They see the artifice that shadows the spectacle of a trial, the breaches of professional duty and lapses in humancharacter, the way the courtroom, despite its sturdy, marbled appearance, can serve as an unbalanced playing field for those outmatched by resources and foiled by foul play. And there are so many instances of tampering, not with the jury, but with whatthe jury is exposed to: manipulated procedural and evidentiaryrules, and the ways in which money is used to silence the truth.Having faith that the jury will be able to judge what is real,honest, and human from the staged facades and deceit that dominated the courtroom, Paul Newman ultimately summed up what most people expect and wish the law to be:So much of the time we're just lost. We say, please God,tell us what is right, tell us what is true. When there isno justice, the rich win, the poor are powerless. We becometired of hearing people lie. And after a time we becomedead. We think of ourselves as victims, and webecome victims ... We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs,we doubt our institutions. We doubt the law. Buttoday you are the law. Not some book. Not some lawyer ...These are just symbols of our desire to be just. They arein fact a prayer, a fervent and frightened prayer ... Inmy religion we say, "Act as if thee had faith." Faith willbe given to you. If we are to have faith in justice we areonly to believe in ourselves and act with justice.
Law and religion. Judges and clergy. Verdicts and absolutions. Blind faith and blind justice.
For most people, there is a belief that the values and teachingsthat are embodied in both law and religion -- the consciousnessand ideals that are invoked in cathedrals and courthouses -- arebasically the same, that they go hand in hand. In practice, however,they are connected by left feet. Law and religion are, in fact,largely and unfortunately not inspired by the same values, althoughmost of us wish to believe otherwise.
We assume that an exalted sense of rightness, and knowingthe proper standards for engaging in the world and dealing withour fellow human beings, is what clergy and judges have in common.But men of the cloth and men who sit on judicial benchessee the world quite differently from one another. And it's notmerely their elevated pedestals that make it so. Let us not befooled by the robes: priests, rabbis, ministers, imams, and juristsmay dress the same, but they are not the same. Uniforms can bedeceiving; the mirage of uniformity -- despite the fact thatjudges wear black robes and clergy are sometimes dressed inwhite -- may be more of a caveat than sartorial coincidence. And yes, courts and churches are decorated with similar props andvestments. But, once more, the similarity here is only one of interiordesign. The decor is intended to elicit a particular emotion,an aura that isn't always deserved, but does commandrespect.
Despite The Verdict's spirited call to faith, the faith that animatesreligion does not exist in the law. In the film, the jury exercisesfaith in its own judgment, ultimately rejecting what itsees as the immoral shenanigans of a system that plays by itsown blighted rules. But, of course, The Verdict is a movie, andthe jurors are only actors. Most actual juries don't have the kindof moral courage to flagrantly ignore the instructions of thejudge, and even if they did, the judge would ultimately nullifytheir verdict.
In another Sidney Lumet movie, in fact, his first featurefilm, 12 Angry Men (1957), the jury once more commands centerstage -- not in the jury box, but in the jury room itself. It is a filmthat deals with the conflicts and deliberations that precede theactual verdict. It is a fictional, inside glance of what the law lookslike as it arrives at its judgments. But unlike the jury in The Verdict,the one in 12 Angry Men prevailed over its own human failingsand redeemed itself by exposing emotional truths that thetrial would never have uncovered. For reasons of prejudice andexpediency, the jurors, at the outset of their deliberations, presumethat the defendant is guilty, even though, in a criminaltrial, innocence is always presumed until proven otherwise. Thedeliberations in 12 Angry Men transform the jury from one thatshares a nonchalant certainty about guilt to one that eventuallysees more complexity in the story of this defendant, which leadthem to find him innocent. One juror, played by Henry Fonda,calls attention to other values, motives, and events that his colleagueshad been willing to overlook. Ultimately they arrive at averdict that is both legally and morally correct.
In The Verdict and 12 Angry Men, Lumet provides two portraits of juries, each overcoming either the perversions of the systemor their own prejudices, and, in the end, doing what's right.But since the law sets such a bad example in guiding their conscience,the jury must have faith in each other to impose justiceon a system that is equally disposed to injustice.The Myth of Moral Justice
Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What's Right. Copyright © by Thane Rosenbaum. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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