Justice is Blind

This is the second entry in a series of thoughts on living in a just society. The first post is here.

The first time I heard someone use the expression “justice is blind” I thought it was a derogatory statement. My elementary school mind could not understand how a lack of vision could be anything but detrimental to the cause of justice. But the saying and the associated image are pictures of impartiality, which is one of the cornerstones upon which a just society is built.

woman in dress holding sword figurine

The concept of justice dates back to the most ancient writings of mankind. Before the Romans added the goddess of Justice to their pantheon, the ancient civilizations of the middle east understood the concept. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham asked God. God made a covenant with Abraham’s descendants that included measures pertaining to justice, including the prohibition of partiality in judgment.

The famous image of Lady Justice blindfolded while holding a balance scale is a picture of impartiality. In the scale the actions of an individual are measured against the standard of justice with no regard to what kind of person is being weighed in the balance. Hence the blindfold. I would hope that most of us would appreciate that this is exactly what we want in a just society: for every individual to be measured against the standard regardless of who they are.

This impartiality prevents us from allowing someone rich, powerful, or charismatic to get away with an injustice based on their personal appeal. It also means that we ought not dismiss transgressions committed by people we know and love simply because we know and love them. On the other hand, it means that a person should only be convicted if they really are guilty, not because they simply appear shady or are our personal enemies or belong to a certain group of which we do not approve.

In order to preserve this sense of impartiality, jurors in a trial are only chosen if they agree to view the evidence impartially. Family members, those who are directly affected by the crime, or those with clear personal biases are exempted. The point of being a good juror is that you are willing to measure the actions against the standard. Period. TV shows and movies that portray the outcome of a trial as dependent on the type of juror are sad as it means that true justice is not being carried out. A declaration of guilt or innocence should not come because of the personal biases of the jurors, but as a result of the evidence.

So does this really happen? Is justice truly blind? Because we are dealing with people we know that this principle will be practiced imperfectly, but we also know that is is a good principle. If someone is wrongfully convicted, by what principle do we overthrow the wrongful conviction? We don’t say, “Look, whether or not Jack did it the reason he got convicted was because of his red hair, but now everyone likes redheads so let’s get Jack out of prison.” The principle we use to overthrow Jack’s conviction is the principle that justice is blind, so “Jack got convicted because the jury didn’t look at the evidence, they just looked at his red hair. Let’s weigh the evidence and see if it shows that Jack actually committed this crime.”

If we “progress” as a society towards a view of life where every demographic (male vs female, rich vs poor, male vs female, straight vs gay) is weighed differently in the balance, we are moving towards a less just society. We are moving towards a society where Lady Justice has her eye on the person and her thumb on the scale. And we know this is happening because most people make up their minds before hearing any evidence based on the tribe to which they belong. This is the sad legacy of post-modernism in America.

There is nothing wrong with a bunch of creeps who sexually assualted women being arrested, tried, and if found guilty thrown in jail. But there is something wrong with guilt being assumed based solely on the fact that the accused is male. Why were the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh taken seriously but the accusations against Joe Biden are not? Why can Jimmy Kimmell keep his job after blackening his face to imitate Karl Malone but Meghan Kelley gets fired just for suggesting that maybe it isn’t racist to try to dress up like a cultural icon? The answer to those questions is that there is a cultural leaning that condemns some and pardons others based on who they are and to what tribe they belong. This is injustice.