Judges and Justice

Most of us have read about, or at least heard of the notorious Judge Roy Bean. Its hard when listening to the current debate about the Democrat’s filibuster of the President’s nominees for the various U.S. courts, not to think about Judge Bean. When you think about Roy Bean, you understand immediately why the issue of who judges America’s citizens, and oversees our courts, is so extremely important, and why each side is dug in politically, both having strong commitments to justice, and both hoping no doubt to prevent the type of justice practiced by Bean from ever being practiced knowingly, in the United States again.

Remembering Judge Roy Bean should cause us to understand the very direct relationship between Judges and justice. Of course we like to believe that American justice and our judiciary has come a long way since the 1800s. Bean oversaw a court that he himself had established, with several cronies. He operated the court according to his own law, and his own interpretation of the law, while today’s well educated cadre of American jurists and Judges have been charged with a staunchly secularist mandate, and a codified body of law. Our modern judicial philosophy says we must ignore moral judgments and stick to the basics of positivist law, acted out in an adversarial system, which means “the facts ma’am, and nothing but the facts,” and also, that someone’s got to win and someone’s got to loose. Forget that justice, and not victory, is the real, and desired objective of the law, since it seems a ridiculous and hopeless preoccupation in such a scenario. Back to Bean.! Judge Roy Bean had no patience for inconvenient legal details like innocence until proven guilty. Nor did he have much time for any moral considerations, since as far as Bean was concerned, even though he claimed to be a moral authority, the law is merely a means to an end, and the desired end is determined by whoever is doing the judging, what mood they are in, what political party they support at the time, etc. In Bean’s case his temperament was affected mostly by two things, one, an opportunity to make some money, and the other, an opportunity to garner greater influence. He was a simple man who had a great passion for the law, even though he had little respect for the law, and in fact, he took up his own brand of justice out of disdain for the more traditional brand of justice practiced even in his own state at the time. If forced to characterize Bean in modern day legal terminology, one might call him an activist judge, or a judge with an agenda. Perhaps we could compa! re him with some of the US immigration judges who detained so! many Muslims during the Clinton administration using secret evidence which accused them of being national security risks. It turned out that the secret evidence in most of those cases were newspaper articles written by various propagandists charging these people with all sorts of things, some as dangerous as having a controversial political opinion, like being opposed to the occupation in Palestine, and therefore opposed to the US government’s previous role, which was too overlook the injustices of the occupation. Their opposites would be the brave judges who, like most Americans, were shocked and sickened by the idea that our courts had been poisoned by politics, and special interests, and our jails had become holding pens for Palestinian free speakers. Maybe the most shocking of all seeming injustices was the recent raid on University students and confiscation of their computers because they were downloading and swapping music from the internet. Can you imagine making our! children criminal for doing what generations of teenage Americans have done, which is to share music. Other generations borrowed and copied cassettes, due to technology, today’s teenagers go to jail for downloading. Their criminal act is “stealing” music off the internet. Of course stealing is wrong, but one has to wonder why the record companies call it stealing instead of word of mouth advertising, and why they want to see kids locked up, in courts, or loosing their computers because they want to listen to music and they don’t have the exuberant amounts of money that companies charge today to but it? Are the majority of people who listen to music considering not buying a CD because they can download it from the internet for free? Not likely. This might be another example of special interest justice. 

If we were to ignore for a moment the trappings of contemporary justice, so beautifully robed, and take a look at real life American contemporary justice, we, the people, might begin to wonder, if aside from the formalities, much has really changed since the days of old Bean. Our prison system is presently overseeing the punishment of more American people than the entire populations of some small countries in Europe. We are learning that many of those on death row are victims of racial hatred, and bigotry, or they are on death row because they are poor people and can’t afford crackerjack attorneys, and they can’t afford to mount a defense, to prove themselves innocent. Or they can’t hide from media outlets who like to decide who is guilty and then destroy them, poison jury pools and do whatever else they can to see that a person is convicted because they don’t like him, or her. Can anyone remember the poor man who was locked up and later found dead in j! ail after the media convicted him of kidnapping and killing Elizabeth Smart, who by the way, and praise God, is now home safely with her family? His crime was that it was taking too long to find any other suspect. What about the Enron guy who killed himself. Think he killed himself because he thought he was going to jail? One guess is that he was scared to death of media justice.

Judicial reform is much needed in this country, and that’s something that just about every American would probably agree upon. The question is, “how can our judiciary be reformed if legislators wont allow us to have Judges that are willing and able to render moral and legal, and not merely political and ideological decisions?” If you ask most Americans how they perceive justice, they would perhaps answer saying that justice means what is ‘right” and what is “fair” both moral definitions. You would not likely find very many, who would agree with Judge Roy Bean, that justice is a matter of subjective opinion, dictated by ideology, and political affiliations, moods, and trends, and media sound bites, financial wealth, race, and/or the religion of a defendant, or a suspect, even though in today’s America, justice is beginning, or so it seems, to look a lot like it did to Bean, and that’s an unfortunate step back, at a time when we should be very anxious to leap ! forward, advancing modern concepts of justice that match our desire to be a modern, more civilized and more compassionate people.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women and host a weekly internet radio program at IBN.Net, named “A Civilizational Dialogue.” (1-2 PM each Wednesday). The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.