Rule of LawI've been a know-it-all my whole life. Many years ago, when I was in grade school, my class was talking about the US Supreme Court and how it had issued an unpopular and, to our young minds, incorrect decision on some subject of the day. I've forgotten the subject, but it had us inflamed with all the passion of youth. The teacher called on me, probably because I was looking out the window at more important things. I said something like hadn't the Court changed its opinion sometimes? I had already mastered the ability to look like I knew everything or was wiser than I really was by asking questions rather than making statements. I hadn't heard of Socrates either. The teacher said yes and then proceeded to tell the class what he thought I meant. I don't remember what I meant back then, if anything more than the need to deflect a question, but I know today what I think. It's a commentary on the Rule of Law. I'm not motivated by any recent Supreme Court decisions by the way, although I am thinking of a recent trial. When we talk about the rule of law we tend to think of the law as established and unchanging. That's part of what is good about the rule of law, it applies equally to all so it doesn't change for the rich and powerful. But it isn't unchangeable. We are constantly tinkering with the law through all the mechanisms available to us: legislative, courts, public opinion and even civil disobedience. I believe this is mostly a good thing because even the best intentioned lawmakers can't foresee the ways a law will play out. Many of us would like to forget that the rule of law is ultimately backed by power. In democracies that power is supposed to be wielded by the whole people so that, again, no one person or group enjoys special treatment at the expense of others. In practice money talks and there always is some group that gets special treatment. It makes sense to try to minimize that - special treatment run wild is a sure way to foment revolution and revolution is bad for business, bad for people, destructive of property and peoples lives even if you discount morality. So far there has been no rioting over the George Zimmerman verdict. What I'm hearing instead is debate on the virtue of stand your ground laws, whether they extend the concept of self defense too far. I also understand the fear that causes us to feel we need self defense, caused in part by the breakdown of the rule of law in places we see on tv every day. I try to take the long view. There is tragedy. Today a young man is dead because of some disastrous misunderstandings and I hope you join me in wishing we could change that regardless of your views on the trial. But our system moves slowly because it has to, and we should not give up on the rule of law just because it takes time.
19 Jul 2013
Copyright © 2013 Truck Smith