What is justice?
Imagine a class that has just taken a test. Most of the students did fairly well, scoring anywhere from 80 to 90%. A couple of them scored lower than that, getting Cs and Ds. One student failed the test miserably, and got a large red F written on his paper. But there was one student who got a perfect score.
Later, one of the students that scored low complained to the teacher. She claimed that she had studied for 8 hours straight on several occasions for this test, (certainly more than the other students, she thought) but had done lousy. She claimed that the test must have been unfair, because she deserved a good grade much more than the boy who did really well. Was it?
It is hard to say, because there may have been a number of factors that the student conveniently left out of her story. Maybe the student who complained spent more time daydreaming than actually studying. Or maybe she considered sleeping on her book; a proper way to study.
Or maybe the student with a higher grade had spent much of his life with his head buried in a classic book, reading works done by great authors and gaining knowledge on many different topics, while the other student spent most of her time on the computer, doing who knows what.
So with so many factors, how can we ever find justice? Justice is presented as a driving factor in the preamble to the United States Constitution. So how do we know what that means? Today I will give you a definition of justice, show you how justice is the cornerstone of the Constitution, and tell you what the role of the citizen is in the quest for justice.
Definition of Justice.
Different people have different opinions of what justice is. One of the few subjects we can all seem to agree on is the need for justice. But really, the only reason we can all agree on this is because we all have different definitions of the word “justice.” Whatever moral value each of us believes in, we call justice.
James Madison observed, “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity….Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them.”
Because of the different views there may be on justice, in order to speak to you about justice, first I will attempt to define justice. If I were to talk to you all day about justice, but I never defined it, then we might very well be talking about two completely different things.
The only problem is, it is very difficult to find a definition of justice. If you search for a definition of justice, you end up with many different definitions. Some are as simple as, “The quality of being just or fair.” Or “Fair or right treatment or action.” That doesn’t help us much, because we don’t know what “fair” is either. The only definitions we have of justice are vague and hard to grasp.
“Justice is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together,” said Daniel Webster at the funeral of Justice Joseph Story. But what is justice to us, those of us who do not speak in metaphors, but who want justice to be shown in our lives?
One of the easiest to understand definitions comes from the Bible. Matt 7:12
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Justice is treating everyone equally, and treating other the very same you would like to be treated yourself.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always as easy as it may sound. If it was, we might not have nearly so much crime, or other problems in the United States. Because of how imperfect humans are, there is a need for a government to set forth rules in order to give fair treatment to every citizen.
This is one of the founding principles behind our Constitution. The Constitution was written as an effort to give justice to all of America’s peoples, no matter who they were, or what their circumstances were. The framers outlined this in the preamble to the Constitution. Justice is the first and foremost goal of the Constitution, and confirms the rest of the preamble.
The preamble to the constitution of the United States reads,
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The preamble tells us what the entire purpose of the Constitution is. And the first and foremost of these is to establish justice. Injustice, unfairness of laws and in trade, was of great concern to the people of 1787, and still is today. The Constitution established a nation with a level playing field, where courts were established with uniformity and where trade within and outside the borders of the country would be fair. Today, we enjoy a system of justice that is one of the fairest in the world. It has not always been so – only through great struggle can we now say that every citizen has the opportunity for a fair trial and for equal treatment, and even today there still exists discrimination. But we still strive for the justice that the Framers wrote about.
But that’s not where justice ends. It’s just the beginning of our founding father’s purpose. Because, as I will attempt to show you, if a nation truly has established justice, the framers’ other main goals of ensuring tranquility and providing for a common defense, and securing the blessings of liberty will also be realized.
Justice gives us a reason to defend our homeland
Russel Kirk of the Heritage Foundation says in one of his lectures, “the just man defends vigorously whatever is entrusted to his charge, and sets his face against the lawless.”
So, then if we are a just nation, we will defend what is ours, our homes, our families, and those of our fellow citizens. If someone was trying to take something from you, you would not sit back and let them, would you? That would not be fair, would not be just. You would defend what was yours, at any cost to yourself, because that is what is right.
The government has established laws to provide us with a common defense, but it is not the government that defends the nation, it is the common man and woman of this country that defend what is ours. What the government does is provide the just means by which our soldiers may defend the country. Laws are set up so that even in war there is rules, and those rules are fair even to the loser of a conflict. Without these rules and guidelines, war would no longer be about defending what is ours, but it would become something even more ugly than it is now.
Just society will reap the benefits of liberty
Justice in a society will promote the general welfare of the nation, because every person in that society would be treated fairly. Those who do good for others would also receive good back, and those who would disrupt this welfare would be punished so that they would not be able to harm those who have done well.
The framers stated in the preamble that they wished to secure the blessings of liberty both for themselves and for their descendants. But without justice, how is this possible? Even if the men in the days of our founding fathers were to win their independence from England, without justice their goal would never be met. They might have reaped the benefits of liberty and freedom for themselves, but very quickly the nation would have turned into the very thing they feared.
Timothy B. Lewis of the Constitutional Freedom Foundation says, “One of the characteristics of the great civilizations that have risen and fallen throughout history, is the fact that over time they departed from their basic founding principles. Drunken by the success caused by the principles established by their forebears, later generations became blinded to actual cause and effect relationships. They seemed to assume that prosperity was somehow their natural birthright regardless of what they themselves did and the principles they followed.”
If the values of justice had not been so clearly defined in our Constitution, we might very well have been like other great empires and forget the reason we had become a nation in the first place. The people of the United States would today be much different, possibly under a tyrant king.
Our Responsibility in justice
Justice is something many of us take for granted in America. It’s something we’ve known all of our lives. The only thing we know of injustice is when we are cut off in traffic or when someone else gets the job we apply for, when we don’t think they deserved it. True oppression isn’t even in our minds, we have had justice for generations.
But if we don’t realize that justice isn’t an inherent part of our lives, we may very well lose it. You might be asking, what is our responsibility to justice? After all, our laws are passed down to us by the government, and enforced by people such as the police. What role do we have?
The first responsibility we have is almost too obvious. We must obey the laws set before us. Even when it would be so easy to do something against the law, we must follow the law. We must treat others how we would like to be treated. If you do not want someone else to steal something of yours, than you must not steal, even if it is something small off the shelf at Wal-Mart. You cannot have the attitudes of either, “Its easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” or, “Its only illegal if you get caught.”
The second responsibility is also one of our rights. One that very few nations have. We have the right to vote. At least, those of us who are over 18 can vote. The rest of us will get that chance soon. By voting men and women into office that will favor just policies, we are establishing justice. The government of the US is run not by politicians, but by the people. Every person who is in office was put there by the common people of America. It is our great right and responsibility to present our opinions in this country. By voting or by lobbying for just policies.
The final responsibility that I would like to present is Jury duty. Many people dread jury duty, but that is because they don’t understand what a great a part they are taking in the country. Cases in courts in the United States are presented to a jury made up of common people who are unbiased towards either the defendant or the plaintiff.
As a member of a jury, you have the chance to make sure that those who would threaten the peace and freedom of the US are punished rightly, and that those who are innocent are pardoned. This is a great right that many nations never have had.
Justice is sometimes a hard thing to follow, by people who naturally want to look out only for themselves. It is easier to do things that you think will further your own goals than to follow the laws set before you.
But it is our responsibility to seek justice in this country. To seek justice by doing to others what we want them to do to us. If we answer the call to seek after justice, this nation will remain a great and fair country for many more generations to come. Whether it be matters of national policies, or something as simple as a school test.