Sunday, November 09, 2003

Amorality and the Law 

I sometimes find that those in the legal profession and undertaking legal education misunderstand the attempts to impose objectivity on legal practitioners. Objectivity is important, and I don't mean to question the need for people to be willing and able to adopt an objective point of view when necessary to intelligently understand an issue free of subjective adulteration. There is a difference, however, between objectivity and amorality.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm not talking about morality from some external source (holy text, what my parents told me, etc.). I feel very strongly that the adoption of a moral code external to one's own experience leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of the world and is the root of most of the world's problems.

I'm talking about personal morality. Ethics may be a better word to describe it, except for the connotation of professionalism that "ethics" seems to carry with it.

In recently reading the Dred Scott decision, the amorality of the opinion struck me. Taney writes, "It is not the province of the court to decide upon the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy, of these laws." It's not that I don't understand his point, and the point of judicial objectivity in general, it just appears obvious to me that there is a difference between adhering to a strict review role and permitting policy to fly in the face of humanity.

I don't advocate activism from the bench. As much as I would like to have read something in the Scott decision hinting at the profound injustice underpinning the ruling, I don't want to see reactionary justices issuing moral decrees on abortion or sodomy laws. Sorry if the brainstorming is leading me in 2 different directions at one...here's my point via personal example:

Most law students would not associate themselves openly with illegal activity. I've chosen to do just this, or rather I've chosen to remain on the course I've always taken despite my new educational surroundings. This has caused some people to ask me why I want to be a lawyer if I don't respect the law.

Without going into the obvious response that anyone asking such a question is likely to have broken several laws that day alone, my answer is this: I only respect the law where it corresponds with my personal moral sense of justice. I have no respect for the law in and of itself except where it serves the greater goal of creating a more just society. I cannot view the practice of law as a mere vocation, engaged in solely for financial benefit and security. I see the law as society's attempt to practicably apply moral philosophy. Part of what makes me want to be a lawyer is my adamant belief that there are great, fundamental wrongs being perpetrated by our legal system under the guise of Justice.

Damn...that post made no sense. Oh well...


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