Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Sad Justice

“What really for me marks a conservative judge is one who doesn’t decide more than he has to in order to do his own job. Our job is to decide cases and resolve controversies. It’s not to write broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large.”
Thus spake Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of his retirement from the bench.

What a fool. What a waste. What an ass.

A few pages later, under the heading “School Law Clinics Face a Backlash”, the same New York Times reported how, after these clinics “go after powerful interests, lawmakers get involved”:
Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislature as legal clinics at the school increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge.

On Friday, lawmakers [in Maryland] debated a measure to cut money for the University of Maryland's law clinic if it does not provide details to the legislature about its clients, finances and cases.

The measure, which is likely to be sent to the governor this week, comes in response to a suit filed in March by students accusing one of the state’s largest employers, Perdue, of environmental violations.
Yet, the man who sat on the bench of the Supreme Court for 35 years, deciding matters of life and death – of individuals, communities, societies, customs and habits – sees his role as that of a clerk and a referee, of merely “resolving controversies” and not “writing broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large”.

Another simpleton who scorns “social engineering”.

I am the clerk. I am the scribe, not understanding what I hear, not knowing what I write.

What explains this mentality – this limiting quality, really?

The answer is the absence of self-criticism, that not “watching oneself”. “To the extent that I look back at earlier situations,” the judge told the Times, “I really don’t think I’ve changed all that much.”

John Berger, in his masterful novel on the exposition of art, A Painter of Our Time, writes:
[A]genius ... watches himself. That is the largest part of his technique, and it is what separates him from others. We all forget continually. The genius, because he watches himself, remembers. He naively remembers his dreams, he ruthlessly remembers his real experiences, and gradually, very gradually, he learns to remember the exact nature of his mistakes and successes as a man applying paint to a flat surface. And so he recognizes what others have felt but never known. Technique and genius are nothing more nor less than that recognitions.
The point here is not to criticize an old clerk; merely to emphasize the importance of being continually self-critical. Such vigilance gradually brings about a broader comprehension of events; we see how they all are connected.

That stage of comprehension is the material basis of a theory that is no longer an intellectual pursuit or a parlor game but a weapon.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of "sad' justice, how about the Federal Justice Department deciding after months of investigation that it will not criminally prosecute Cassano at AIG for virtually blowing up the company and almost the entire global economy. In other words, it is normal business practice to create gigantic sytematic risk. You can do so and get away with it by asserting it falls within current legal standards as long as you didn't willfully mislead others because you believed you knew what you were doing, even though you actually didn't fully understand what you were doing. Ignorance really is bliss for certain people.

Nasser Saber said...

Dear Anonymous,

You're on the mark about DOJ and Cassano; I was following it. Still, what is taking place is an institutional development that goes beyond pipsqueaks like Cassano. Under the guise of "belief" and "interpretation", judges and lawyers are gutting the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. The chicanery is camouflaged as "interpretation", but what takes place in fact is the repeal of the laws. Imagine someone believing that 1 + 1 makes 3. I suppose in a free world, that would all right. Now imagine that person being put in charge of aircraft design at Boeing. That, of course, would never happen in the world of engineering. But it is happening in the world of law -- and economics. See my latest post about the "donkeys".