Justice and the Justices

There's a reason we don't trust our courts anymore.

The Reader's Digest recently published an article on the people Americans trust most.  The authors didn't use a particularly scientific methodology and a lot of the results can be interpreted in several different ways, but there was one striking observation:

We trust TV judges more than Supreme Court Justices. Straight-talking dispute settler Judge Judy (51%) had the highest score of all the judges on our list – including all nine Supreme Court Justices, and was closely followed by Judge Joe Brown (48%).

Your first reaction might be, "Well, that figures. American couch-potatoes are more engrossed in the fictional world on the boob tube than in reality!"

Perhaps that's true, but we think there's something more going on here.  Consider what takes place on the TV judge shows.  Two ordinary people come to the "court" with an ordinary complaint that anyone can understand - someone who didn't pay a debt, who sold shoddy goods, or who didn't keep a promise of some kind.

Nobody brings a lawyer.  Nobody cites Latin phrases or obscure technicalities.  Nobody brings in expert witnesses or mentions legal precedents.  The disputing parties simply present their stories, the judge perhaps asks a few questions and examines whatever documents may exist.

Then a ruling is issued pretty much on the spot.  The judge says who needs to pay or do what.  The judge explains why, in simple terms anyone can understand.  Almost all the time, the justice, or at least the logic, of the ruling is apparent to an ordinary rational person.  Justice is seen to be done.

The Justice of Unjust Judges

Compare that to what goes on in real courts.  Of course there are at least a few honest judges and even honest lawyers if only by statistical accident.  Most Americans, though, have a general expectation that courts will rule for whichever side has the fancier attorneys regardless of the underlying facts of the case.  No Americans expect justice to be done anytime soon; it takes years for most cases to wind their way through multiple levels of appeals.  Even when justice is finally done, if it is, the rewards of justice don't match the lawyer's bill.  The wronged individual has still not been restored even by a ruling in their favor.

What about what goes on at the high court?  For most Americans, the question of what rights to their behavior or to marry each other homosexuals ought to have is a legitimate question, but the idea that there is somehow a right to homosexual "marriage" hiding in the Constitution unnoticed for more than two centuries is ludicrous.  Yet not only are our most learned judges, counselors, politicians, and pundits treating this as a serious matter of debate, there is every chance that the Supreme Court might somehow rule that there is such a right!  After all, they did exactly that forty years ago with Roe v. Wade: James Madison would sooner believe in flying pigs than that somehow he'd written a right to abortion into his Constitution, yet the justices managed to find it there all the same.

To the ordinary, un-learned American, watching the legal machinations of our court system is a bit like reading about what Wall Street financiers do.  Somehow it works very well for the people involved, but it has no beneficial relationship to anything that happens in the real world.  When they get it right, there's no good visible result on Main Street.  When they get it wrong, disastrous things happen without warning to the little folks down here on the ground who had nothing to do with it.

Judge Judy, on the other hand - the guy who sold a lady a lemon was forced to make it right.  The woman who didn't keep her promise had to make it good.  Justice was done, quickly, cheaply, impartially, fairly, and visibly.

Once upon a time, all our courts worked that way.  The fact that Americans trust TV's phony judges more than real ones who hold real court isn't a warning of American stupidity.  It's a warning that our justics system has long since fallen off the rails and needs to go back to the first principles of justice, and that our Congress needs to return to the concept of the rule of sane, understandable, predictable laws on which this country was founded.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Law.
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