As a lawyer, people have often given me presents emblazoned with images of Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice. Her image is familiar to us all, lawyer and non-lawyer alike: a lady, sometimes blindfolded, often not, holding scales in one hand and a two-sided sword in the other. We are trained as lawyers—hell, as people in a civilized society—that justice must be served. Sometimes that means that guilty people go free, but hopefully, more often it means that after a trial based on reason, fairness, and truth, the guilty are held accountable. This is justice. This is the rule of law. This is the type of treatment we would hope to get should we find ourselves faced with similar circumstances.
Justice is served. Justice is meted out. Justice protects and justice punishes.
I started thinking about the concept of justice last week while listening to an interview with Gillian Flynn on Goodreads about the ending of her book Gone Girl. She said people hate the ambiguity in the accountability of the characters at the end. Readers tell Flynn they are looking for justice. “This book isn’t about justice…There is nothing in that book that has any hint that there is going to be justice.” She boils the ending down to the relationship between the husband and wife, Nick and Amy: “There is no justice. Being in love isn’t about justice. The ending is about two people who are each other’s match, for better or worse.”
Then Boston happens. A piece and the peace of a city—a country—blow up, literally and figuratively. President Obama immediately promises that those responsible for the bombs will “feel the full weight of justice.” After 9/11 President Bush similarly promised to “find those responsible and bring them to justice.”
What does that even mean? It is just a timeworn cliché heard everywhere from the White House to crime procedurals on television?
It certainly doesn’t mean fairness. There is nothing fair about what has happened. Like other cases of brutal, violent crimes, there is no modern form of jurisprudence that could possibly make up for the pain and suffering of the murdered and the injured and their families. For me, it doesn’t mean righteousness or fury, either. Violence should not, in my opinion, beget violence.
For the lawyer in me, justice means accountability. The person responsible is demonstrated to have committed the crime and faces the penalty for that crime. He (or she or they) is provided with the protection of the rule of law our democratic society demands. Then, when everything is weighed on Justitia’s scales, he is held to account and the action of her sword is swift.
For the other me, the me who gets up every day, goes to the grocery store, the mall, the library, the post office, and countless other ‘soft targets’, I don’t know that the ideal of justice can be served. I can only take comfort in the fact that the numbers of people who care, the people who help, the people who run towards the danger, tip the scales in their direction. I can keep going. I can keep laughing. And listening to Metallica. And reading. And writing. And going. And doing it over and over again.
For better or worse.