American (In)Justice System

My main contention is that the American justice system has become a form of tyranny.

This post could easily become a long, long essay, so I will simply outline my argument. Future posts will deal with some specifics, including a few ideas for how to repair the system. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I fully recognize some of my arguments may be naive; I post this as a challenge, as an example of the frustrations of an American citizen, and welcome anyone more knowledgeable to correct me if I am wrong.

1. The system exacts a toll from every citizen, not for their good, but for the good of legal professionals (lawyers, judges, police of various kinds, etc.). No matter who else wins or loses, the legal professions always win, always gain power, always gain wealth. The fear of the legal system itself works in favor of the legal professions and hurts everyone else. This seems to me a form of extortion. Legal professionals themselves are often immune from prosecution, either by law or by practice.

2. The system is essentially impossible to change from within. Within the federal government there is a separation of powers between the judicial, legislative, and executive. However, the legal profession has subverted this separation. Two of the three branches are controlled by members of one social group: lawyers. These individuals cannot be counted on to change a system they’ve been indoctrinated in, that has provided them with prestige and wealth, and that continues to affirm their career decisions. We recognize this in other cases: We would not let any other group police itself, but rather the legal professions police all other groups, and themselves. There are times, e.g. during the Clinton administration, when lawyers control all three branches of government. Repeatedly we see that legal judgments never go against the legal profession. In order to make changes, it would be necessary to appeal to legal professionals to change their own profitable, prestigious system. I consider it essentially impossible.

3. The law itself is often contradictory and therefore essentially arbitrary. There is no difference between a tyrant who rules by whim and a massive system of contradictory laws that are impossible to wholly understand. For that matter, there is no difference between an arbitrary tyrant and a single law that the person it applies to cannot understand. Legalese is the enemy of the average citizen in a very real, and sometimes lethal, way. The power of judges is likewise arbitrary; every judge is a tyrant in his or her own courtroom, some benign, some not. In the case of truly tyrannical judges, the press and lawyers are well-advised not to publicize this fact if they may end up in that judge’s courtroom in any capacity whatsoever.

Example 1: I know of a case in which an elderly woman was ordered to appear before a judge at a certain time. She arrived in plenty of time, but mistook the courtroom and went to the wrong one. Realizing her mistake, she found the right courtroom and entered a few minutes late. The judge ruled her in contempt of court and she spent the night in jail. After her release, she contacted the press and a small story appeared. The judge then called her attorney demanding to know why he had advised her to go to the press. The elderly woman had no other recourse, the attorney needed to keep good relations with the judge, and nothing came of this.

Example 2: I know of another case in which a judge ordered a Department of Human Services caseworker to find a foster home for a child by midnight on a certain day. The caseworker failed and was jailed for contempt for several days. Upon being released, the caseworker quit DHS, leaving the section assigned responsibility for finding foster homes for abused children short one worker until a new one could be hired and trained.

There is a great deal more to write, but this will suffice as an introduction to the topic. In summary, the American legal system is essentially arbitrary, impossible to change, and extorts resources from the citizenry for the benefit of a small, powerful elite. It is a form of tyranny.

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Postscript: This post has been a long time coming. It is coincidentally on the same theme as Grim’s recent post, The Trust Issue, which references this article about Americans prosecuted by the US for violating Honduran laws that had been repealed before the Americans “broke” them. (Grim h/ts Southern Appeal, a blogging lawyer.)

The inspiration for this post came from Grim’s blog as well. In a post I can no longer find because I can’t find a link to his archives, if he has them, there was a discussion of Crito, which relates Socrates decision to die as sentenced by law instead of run off to a safe city. I had invited someone at Grim’s to write an opposing piece, which I would be happy to post here if I could remember the gentleman’s name and contact him.

Finally, there is probably someone who has done this better, but this will do for me. I’d be happy to get links to any posts on similar or contrary themes.

Update, 2008 June 21: Grim links an excellent post from his archives that should be read as background philosophy for this post. The comments are excellent and should be read as well.

Also, I will be collecting other related links here.

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7 comments so far

  1. […] See Also Posted June 19, 2008 Some related links to my post on the American justice system (more to be added as we […]

  2. Grim on
  3. lumpenscholar on

    Thanks, Grim. That wasn’t the one I had in mind, but it is actually better, and a beautiful post as well.

  4. curtismo on

    Using jury duty to send a message we do not have to vote guilty if we do not believe in the law or its abuse we can vote not guilty and send a message telling the state we are fed up and want changes made

  5. lumpenscholar on

    That’s true, but it is on a case-by-case basis, which is of very limited use and sends a very limited message to a very limited audience.

    I in no way want to discourage or downplay individual or small-group acts, but we need a change in the system itself.

  6. […] American Injustice System, Collection of related […]

  7. […] law, solutions | It’s easier to point out the problems than to find solutions.  In the American injustice system, I pointed out the problems, and I have documented them in Law: See Also, a collection of links to […]


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