Why We See Shades of Justice
The United States has historically struggled to define and award justice to all its citizens. Justice remains a hot topic today. Protests and counter-protests are erupting around the country in its name, each screaming their own understanding of justice. Today more than ever, the average citizen, if he or she participates in politics, finds themselves asking, “How can we secure justice amidst all this chaos?” The next question that citizens finds themselves asking is, “Why is everyone else’s interpretation of justice different from mine?” Does justice require people to wear masks to minimize Covid-19 spread? Or is that a violation of justice? Does justice mean defunding a potentially brutal and biased police force? Or could that cure be worse than the poison? These questions are only further deprived of answers by this upcoming election because of their increasing divisiveness and controversy. And while the reasons that people have different answers differ for each individual, most people come to different interpretations of justice through political partisanship, mob-rule, and bias news. Its political partisanship that has historically prevented justice from being served. Mob-rule has innocent people in prison despite overwhelming evidence. And bias media has only cemented people in their own beliefs. It’s this social division that allows voters to create stubborn biases that have shaped, and will shape, the way that voters perceive objective justice.
Throughout history, political partisanship has often prevented justice from being realized. The founding fathers recognized this danger and installed many safeguards within the legal system. One such safeguard was the 2/3 rule. This rule stated that in order for the president to be removed from office, congress must vote 2/3 guilty. Because 2/3 is greater than 1/2, removing a president out of political spite would be nearly impossible.
An example of this was in late 2019 when Republican President Donald J.Trump was impeached under Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Judging from the way the senators voted, it can be assumed that there was party-line voting in place. With the exception of Republican senator Mitt Romney and Joe Manchin, all Republicans voted innocent on all accounts. Similarly, all Democrats voted guilty on all accounts. The odds that the senators voted according to their beliefs on the president's innocence is unlikely. This voting style meant that no matter if the president was guilty or innocent, he would remain in office because only 1/2 voted guilty.
If a chair were placed in the center of the senate floor, and half the senators voted the chair’s color as blue and the other half as red, could we say the vote was about the chair’s color? If not, could the same be said about the impeachment “trial”?
If the president truly committed a crime offensive enough to be removed from office, shouldn’t the senate vote honestly so the president could be removed from office? Likewise, if the president is believed to be innocent, shouldn’t the senate also vote honestly so the president can do his or her’s duties?
We saw a similar party-line vote in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. During the senate judiciary hearings where Kavanaugh was being appointed to the Supreme Court, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. If Brett Kavanaugh is found guilty without a reasonable doubt of a crime such as this, then his hearing should end and he should be charged and tried in court. If he is found innocent, then his hearings should be allowed to continue.
Accusations like these should remain non-partisan and be taken seriously for both survivors of sexual assault and those falsely accused. Despite this, in Kavanaugh’s final vote, there was only one Democrat and a few independents that broke the party-line vote. In the end, it seemed not to have mattered that he was accused of such a horrendous crime. He was going to be voted in anyways because the Republicans had a majority in the senate. If Kavanaugh truly committed a sexual assault, and we allowed him to enter the highest court in the United States, then through partisanship, a grave injustice was committed.
Similar to partisanship, mob rule or mob mentality can lead to an unhealthy amount of collectivism. A sort of democratization of justice. In our class, we watched Ava DuVernay’s short movie series, “When They See Us,” where she highlights the hidden corruption within the New York police department leading to the wrongful imprisonment of five young boys. The Central Park Five, as named within the documentary, were accused of a brutal sexual assault on a young white jogger in New York’s Central Park. This attack left her unable to remember or identify her assaulter. Under the pressure of increasing crime within the city, the police department resorted to collecting evidence from the young boys through any means necessary despite their young age and immaturity. Behind closed doors, the boys were interrogated for hours until each of the boys were coerced into a confession. The public remained unaware of these unlawful interrogations for years even after the boys’ sentence finished. By then they were grown men.
The public were the ones that swayed the judicial system. In any other case, the boys could not have been convicted with the evidence presented. The confessions that the boys gave were inconsistent with each other which made the prosecutor’s interpretation of the events incoherent. No DNA evidence presented in the court had any of the boy’s DNA on it linking them to the crime. In addition, all the boys recalled their previous confession, claiming that they were coerced. However, none of these things mattered in the end. The public and media had gotten ahold of the story even before the trial had started and played judge, jury, and executioner with the boys. All the news outlets at the time called for their arrest and sentencing. Several powerful figures at the time including now-President Donald Trump went as far as to call the death penalty. The supposed free trial that the boys were supposedly promised was replaced with public execution system.
These boys were faced with a terrifying false reality. Because everyone believed that they were guilty, they must be guilty. This held true even when evidence pointed otherwise.
This is where news media has contributed to a standstill in justice. CNN and FOX news have become somewhat synonyms with liberal news and conservative news. According to Pew Research, 65% of those who identify themselves as conservative trust FOX news as their primary source of information for political and election news. Similarly, when people who identify themselves as Democrat or lean Democrat were asked the same question, 67% responded that they trust CNN as their primary news source regarding elections. In a more extreme example, Rush Limbaugh is the third-most trusted news source among conservative Republicans but remains the second most distrusted news source among liberal Democrats. In other words, people on different sides of the political aisle find themselves watching different news. How can a country define and administer justice if its citizens all see under a different light?
It’s therefore important that people diversify their news sources so that they are able to see the other side of an argument. At the end of the day, news companies are still companies. This means that they will respond to supply and demand, and everyone wants news that they can agree with.
As voters, we must remain cautious and understanding of each other’s point of view. Doing this is the only way we can maintain objective justice in our government. We often get carried away in our political debates and are quick to get upset at the other side for not understanding our point of view well enough. If the solution to every problem were obvious, people would not debate the issue. There must exist legitimate concerns on both sides of a debate in order for a debate to occur. If everyday voters don't recognize those concerns, then we risk subverting justice for our own petty spats and becoming closed-minded to others' beliefs and ideas. And when we become closed-minded, it becomes easy to pick sides rather than decide fairly. In addition, we shouldn’t be too quick to pass judgment even if others have already made up their mind. Doing so can help ensure justice for the innocent. As discussed before, diversifying news media stations will result in a more holistic view of different concerns and opinions. By only choosing to read and believe one source of news, we can quickly fall into close-mindedness. It's enlightening to challenge our own beliefs. Perhaps if more people did that during the Central Park Five case, the outcome would have been different.