This week, Jews around the world will read the Torah portion known as Shoftim (Judges). This particular section of Deuteronomy instructs the Israelites to establish judges and officers in their communities, and includes the famous injunction, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
Like many, I have long been fascinated and perplexed by this command. Why is “justice” repeated twice? And why are the people instructed to pursue justice rather than to achieve it? The answers that immediately spring to mind — the second “justice” is for emphasis, and the command to “pursue” a nod to the idealism of the rule — do not fit comfortably with the larger text of the Torah. The direct repetition of a word, for example, is not common in Biblical text, and traditional exegesis demands that the second use carry a separate and independent meaning. Over the years, I have heard and read many thoughtful takes on the issue. Perhaps, for example, the repetition of “justice” captures substantive and procedural justice, or justice for the individual and for the community, or social justice and justice under the law.
The term “pursue” is equally difficult. Granted, it is impossible for any society to actually achieve perfect justice; perhaps dogged pursuit is all that can be expected of us. But the Torah includes other commands that are equally inconsistent with human nature. “Do not covet,” for example, is an impossible task for mere humans to adhere to, yet it comes with no qualifying language. So why say “pursue” here?
These questions pop into my mind every year around this time, a natural consequence of reading Shoftim around the start of the new law school year. But this time, there was another reason to take a close look at the Biblical injunction to pursue justice. It came in the form of an extraordinary recent episode of Bari Weiss’s new podcast, Honestly. In this episode, Weiss and guest podcaster Kmele Foster examine the “Central Park Karen” story from last summer. They reveal that the simple, straightforward story that was presented to the public is in fact complex, nuanced, and oftentimes messy. And it raises all sort of difficult questions about how our society metes out justice, both in and out of court.
Continue reading “Two ways of pursuing justice”
Blooging has been unusually light over the last few weeks, as I work to finish up some writing projects. I will continue to post here, although probably still on a lighter schedule for a few more weeks. I’ll look forward to sharing some of the bigger projects with my readers as they develop over the coming months.
Thanks to all the readers who have come to The Independent Third Branch since our founding in late 2017. The start of 2021 has seen a surge in readership and subscribers, for which I am humbled and deeply thankful.
Please look around while you’re here, subscribe for email updates, and check back regularly for more discussion of courts and the judicial process.
The Dean of my law school, Scott Brown, has an op-ed up at The Hill calling for unity as the United States inaugurates Joe Biden as its 46th President. It’s an important message. Over the past decade-plus, Americans’ disagreements over policies and protocols have devolved into distrust and outright demonization of their neighbors and countrymen. It is a depressing and dangerous condition, but it is reversible.
I am not naive enough to think that unity will be achieved simply with a change in administration. Donald Trump was a symptom of our dysfunction, not a cause of it. But Inauguration Day provides an excellent opportunity for us to look at ourselves and ask what we really want to be. I hope for an America where people do differ on policies and conceptions of the good life, where we are squabbling and passionate and relentless about our convictions, but also where fealty to the core values of our country — among them free speech, due process, equal protection, and respect for the rule of law — provides the unshakeable foundation for good faith arguments about our future.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have sometimes been hard on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I will continue to do so when I disagree with their policies and actions. But I will also give them credit whenever it is merited, and I will always wish them well. They are now steering a ship of 330 million people, and it is in the interest of the country — indeed, the entire world — that they succeed. May they find that success today and in the coming years.
I don’t usually comment on the culture wars, but every once in a while they connect directly to the operation and interdependence of the judiciary. This week brought an unfortunate example.
This blog has chronicled some of the inappropriate questions and comments from Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in the course of her service as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — comments that have drawn sharp criticism even from members of her own party. Among other things, Senator Hirono finds it proper to ask Catholic judicial nominees about their private religious affiliations and practices, as if membership in a church or the Knights of Columbus has any demonstrable impact on a person’s ability to handle the solemn duties of judicial office.
Hirono’s aggressive disgressions were on display during last week’s confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. First, Hirono asked Barrett — a widely-respected judge, law professor, and mother of seven — if she had ever sexually assaulted anyone. Hirono followed this obscene question with a loud “tsk-tsk”ing of Barrett for her use of the term “sexual preference” during the hearing. Even though Judge Barrett immediately apologized for any unintended offense, Hirono proceeded with a baseless attempt to brand Barrett as a homophobe. (The meaning of the term is certainly in flux and is offensive to many, but it remains in use by, among others, Joe Biden.)
Questions and comments like Hirono’s — which erode public confidence in the court system without any concomitant positive contribution — are cause for civic despair. But in America, such despair often manifests itself as gentle mockery. And the Babylon Bee, a Christian humor site, came through with the following satirical story:
Senator Hirono Demands ACB Be Weighed Against A Duck To See If She Is A Witch.
This may not be the funniest thing I have read in my life, but it’s certainly good for a chuckle — especially for the large number of readers who instantly recognize the direct allusion to “Monty Python’s Holy Grail.” It’s not surprising, then, that the Bee piece was shared widely on social media, including Facebook.
But in a stunning bit of self-importance and tone-deafness this week, Facebook pulled down the article and demonetized the Bee’s own Facebook page, on the spurious grounds that the article “incites violence.” After an appeal and manual review, Facebook has apparently chosen to stand by its decision.
So Americans lose twice. First, a Senator squanders an important opportunity to substantively question a Supreme Court nominee in the name of advancing identity politics. And then, a long tradition of satire is crushed by a social media giant on the weakest of pretenses. Score another point for civic despair.
A guest post by Lawrence Friedman
Among the potential nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing was Barbara Lagoa, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Like the eventual nominee, Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, press reports labeled Lagoa a “conservative jurist,” supported by statements from progressive organizations like Alliance for Justice, which asserted that Lagoa’s decisions “raise concerns that she will side with the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyday Americans.”
One problem with this statement is its premise—namely, that cases in which corporate interests prevail necessarily are the result of a judicial predisposition, rather than the application of controlling legal principles to the facts at hand. Though the results in some cases may reflect motivated reasoning, it remains that judges, both state and federal, in the main seek to honor their oaths to apply the law to the facts without fear or favor. There may be no better example of this commitment to the evenhanded administration of justice than Justice Ginsburg herself, as she was responsible for a series of civil procedure decisions over the past decade that effectively benefited corporate interests at the expense of individuals.
To be sure, it is unlikely you will find Ginsburg’s decisions on the principle of general jurisdiction in any compilation of her most important work as a judge. For example, a new collection curated by Corey Brett Schneider for his Penguin Liberty imprint, Decisions and Dissents of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, features her majority opinions, dissents, and appellate briefs from cases involving gender equality and women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and voting and civil rights—with nary a mention of the pathmarking decisions on federal civil procedure she consistently wrote during her time on the high court.
Continue reading “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Evolution of General Jurisdiction”
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver (IAALS), one of the premier legal reform organizations in the United States, is seeking a new CEO. The full details can be found here.
As a proud alumnus of, and occasional ongoing contributor to, the IAALS family, I can confirm first-hand that this is a remarkable organization and a remarkable opportunity. It will take an equally remarkable person to take IAALS into the 2020s and beyond, but I encourage all qualified people to give it serious consideration.
Ballotpedia reports on Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts statistics, showing that every one of the 179 judgeships on the U.S. Courts of Appeals has been filled, with no pending vacancies. It is the first time since 1977 that there are no vacancies at this level.
There are still 70 district court vacancies, representing more than 10% of the total judgeships at that level. But the courts are slowly working their way back to the judicial capacity to which they are statutorily authorized.
In the wake of the horrific shooting of Judge Esther Salas’s son and husband at her New Jersey home last month, the Judicial Conference of the United States has resolved to seek aggressive legislation and funding to better protect federal judges and their families. The Judicial Conference’s press release, which lays out its proposals, is here.
Let’s hope that Congress acts quickly to provide the necessary resources.