Quote of the Day: Chicago Justice

 

There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.” — Clarence Darrow interview in Chicago (April 1936)

You may have heard similar versions of this quote from numerous people who feel that they have been wronged by the law. However, consider the source of this quote. Clarence Darrow is a famous (infamous?) progressive lawyer, noted for defending controversial defendants and participating in the Scopes trial. Yet here, he is declaring that justice does not exist. What exactly was his goal as a lawyer, then?

Obviously, he was out to serve the interests of his client, but that does not explain why he became a lawyer. If he won a case, was it purely a victory for his client? Was it just for personal glory — to prove himself superior to the 12 men in the jury box and his opponent in the prosecutor’s chair?

In my opinion, the history of progressive politics suggests a darker interpretation than pure ego. What if this is a summary of the progressive goals in law? The courts and the rest of the justice system are only a theater for power conflicts. Law is war, or revolution, by other means. With this mindset, obviously there is no justice. There is only my side and your side, and my side had best win, no matter what. I think this fits the version of legal positivism that was in vogue at the time, as well as progressive revolutionary fervor.

It is notable that this statement was made in Chicago. Recent events in Chicago seem to confirm that Darrow’s worldview is alive and well in the Windy City.

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There are 9 comments.

  1. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin Post author

    And for a counterpoint, a quote that shows justice as it should be:

    If there has been any crime, it must be prosecuted. If there has been any property of the United States illegally transferred or leased, it must be recovered…. I propose to employ special counsel of high rank drawn from both political parties to bring such actions for the enforcement of the law. Counsel will be instructed to prosecute these cases in the courts so that if there is any guilt it will be punished; if there is any civil liability it will be enforced; if there is any fraud it will be revealed; and if there are any contracts which are illegal they will be canceled. Every law will be enforced. And every right of the people and the Government will be protected.

    • Calvin Coolidge, statement on the Teapot Dome scandal, The New York Times (January 27, 1924), p. 1. Quoted by Senator Edward Martin, address to the Mifflin County Republican Committee, Lewistown, Pennsylvania (January 25, 1952), Congressional Record (January 28, 1952), vol. 98, Appendix, p. A400.

     


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    • #1
    • March 28, 2019, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. RightAngles Member

    The Darrow quote juxtaposed with the Coolidge one pretty much says it all as to the views of the Democrats vs the Republicans. I’d like to see one of the Republicans read that Coolidge quote aloud from the Senate floor in preparation for the investigations I hope are coming. Teapot Dome was pretty tame in comparison. So was Watergate.

    • #2
    • March 28, 2019, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    I can’t remember who wrote it, and I can’t find the quote online, but somebody once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing), “it’s often said that government can be defined as any institution that successfully upholds a claim to a monopoly on the use of force. I think it’s more accurate to say that government can be defined as any institution that successfully wields a monopoly on injustice.”

     

    • #3
    • March 29, 2019, at 11:33 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Randy Webster Member

    OmegaPaladin: Yet here, he is declaring that justice does not exist.

    Justice doesn’t exist because lawyers are the intermediaries through which justice is supposed to be attained, and they aren’t interested in justice; they’re interested in winning.

    • #4
    • March 29, 2019, at 2:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Sweezle Member

    Justice can also be confused with fairness. If people expect things to be fair they are disillusioned often.

     

    • #5
    • March 30, 2019, at 12:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Cato Rand Reagan

    I think you miss the point almost entirely. The natural state of man is conflict over resources. Absent an acceptable alternative, that conflict is resolved by violence. The law is a mechanism for – in the majority of cases – resolving that conflict without violence. It has been proven to work tolerably well. Well enough anyway to be of much benefit to those who live under it, at least as compared to the violent Hobbesian alternative. It does so because it is widely, though not universally, regarded as legitimate most of the time. That legitimacy comes, in no small part, from the recognition that there is “due” process pursuant in which contending parties can make their cases and have the matter resolved by (usually, and relatively) unbiased judges or jurors. That’s what lawyers do. They play their part in that process and their ultimate justification comes not from the particular outcome of a case but from the knowledge that their role is a necessary cog in the legitimacy creating machine that raises us out of the Hobbesian world into the safer and more prosperous world made possible under the shield of the “rule of law.”

    Nothing about the system is perfect. It needn’t be to justify its existence. All that is necessary for that it that it be preferable to the real world alternative, which is it, decidedly so. That it falls short of some ideal of justice is noteworthy for purposes of discussions of possible improvements in the system, but as a test of the system itself, is an example of the nirvana fallacy. 

    • #6
    • March 30, 2019, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Percival Thatcher

    OmegaPaladin: In my opinion, the history of progressive politics suggests a darker interpretation than pure ego. What if this is a summary of the progressive goals in law? The courts and the rest of the justice system are only a theater for power conflicts. Law is war, or revolution, by other means. With this mindset, obviously there is no justice. There is only my side and your side, and my side had best win, no matter what. I think this fits the version of legal positivism that was in vogue at the time, as well as progressive revolutionary fervor.

    Victory at any price as a means to power. Those with the power (or presumed to have the power) will then do as they will.

    Justice be damned.

    • #7
    • March 30, 2019, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge

    OmegaPaladin: “There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.” — Clarence Darrow interview in Chicago (April 1936)

    All (well, at least 99%) of lawyers — and judges are former lawyers — are liars. And how can liars promote justice? That’s what this statement is really saying.

    • #8
    • March 31, 2019, at 12:36 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin Post author

    Cato Rand (View Comment):

    I think you miss the point almost entirely. The natural state of man is conflict over resources. Absent an acceptable alternative, that conflict is resolved by violence. The law is a mechanism for – in the majority of cases – resolving that conflict without violence. It has been proven to work tolerably well. Well enough anyway to be of much benefit to those who live under it, at least as compared to the violent Hobbesian alternative. It does so because it is widely, though not universally, regarded as legitimate most of the time. That legitimacy comes, in no small part, from the recognition that there is “due” process pursuant in which contending parties can make their cases and have the matter resolved by (usually, and relatively) unbiased judges or jurors. That’s what lawyers do. They play their part in that process and their ultimate justification comes not from the particular outcome of a case but from the knowledge that their role is a necessary cog in the legitimacy creating machine that raises us out of the Hobbesian world into the safer and more prosperous world made possible under the shield of the “rule of law.”

    Nothing about the system is perfect. It needn’t be to justify its existence. All that is necessary for that it that it be preferable to the real world alternative, which is it, decidedly so. That it falls short of some ideal of justice is noteworthy for purposes of discussions of possible improvements in the system, but as a test of the system itself, is an example of the nirvana fallacy.

    He is stating that there is no such thing as justice anywhere. There is no ideal to aim for. That is something that you completely ignored in your comment.

    I am well aware of the process justification for doing the dirty work of a lawyer. If viewing yourself as an amoral cog in the machine of law helps you sleep at night, I honestly do not care. Darrow, however, was far from a mere cog in a machine. He was a celebrity lawyer who took several high-profile cases. Why take those cases?

    • #9
    • March 31, 2019, at 5:38 PM PDT
    • 1 like