Ah, Law. It is the “universal solvent” of studious disciplines which mixes with every other discipline in some way. It is the very foundation on which society is based. It is our collective conscience made flesh to right wrongs and uphold justice. It is the field in which we confront our greatest moral and political questions.
What a load of horse sh*t.
If there’s one thing lawyers and law students love to do, it’s find ways to aggrandize their chosen field. Law schools are only too happy to play into these delusions (waxing eloquent about creating “leaders for a just and humane world”) in order to boost enrollment and ensure that the school pull in its share of those sweet, sweet tuition dollars. Desperate to justify their six-figure student loan debt, graduating law students perpetuate this twaddle and established practitioners soothe their guilt over high fees by repeating the same mantras. What most of us never discuss, however, are the dirty little truths about this all-saving “Law” we’re so devoted to.
- Supreme Courts exist to find an answer, not the answer. This is one of those things which should be obvious but often isn’t. Supreme Courts (and, consequently, Supreme Court judges) get elevated within the legal mythos to a position akin to Plato’s philosopher kings. When a Supreme Court hands down a ruling, that’s what the law is; the Court has plumbed the vast depths of knowledge and discerned the true nature of the legal reality. More often they’re simply scraping the bottom of the barrel. Yes, Supreme Courts have the final say, after all, someone has to. But just because our system gives them the last word doesn’t mean they’re right, it just means that we have to abide by their decision. True, society can’t work without the buck stopping somewhere, but let’s not always assume that the final answer is some infallible message from on high. Unless, of course, it’s the answer we wanted to get.
- Of course judges are biased, they’re human for chrissakes. There’s a term for a person who has no emotion and who bases all decisions on pure logic. Sociopath. For some reason, however, we have decided that judges really ought not to be sociopaths (please, no Antonin Scalia jokes, that would be too easy). The obvious result of this is that judges are always going to have some level of personal bias in play and while we can screen for the big things with recusal petitions and the like, there are always going to be smaller things in play. This is why it’s generally best not to look like the person who ran over the judge’s dog last Thursday. Regardless, the profession insists on trying to sell the idea that judges are wholly impartial on all matters. How about we give lay people some credit and let this delusion go, huh?
- The probabilities are staggeringly in support of the theory that if a criminal case makes it to trial, the accused is guilty. No matter how hard we work to structure things differently, win records are always going to be important for prosecutors. One of the consequences of this is that prosecutors tend to be very meticulous about which cases they’re willing to press and which cases they’re going to push to plead out. For a criminal case to get to trial the prosecution has to be pretty damn sure that they’ve got things sorted out. Yes mistakes happen and yes people get maliciously prosecuted and you’re damn right we still need trials; the whole point of our system is that it’s better for guilty people to go free than for innocent people to go to jail and that means it’s a good thing that juries tend not to believe this particular dirty truth. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty far from a 50/50 chance that a accused who makes it to trial is guilty, and not in a good way for the accused.
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