Thoughts About the Legal Profession

Aside from the occasional TV series about lawyers (I followed L.A. Law while it ran, and recently we’ve been watching DVDs of old Perry Mason episodes), I’ve never had much interest in the legal profession, intellectually, and find it hard to muster much respect for it. Let’s do bullets.

  • I’ve been called for jury duty 8 or 10 times in my life, and never gotten on a jury. They don’t want engineers. They don’t want people who think, they want people who are easily emotionally swayed. This rather throws the integrity of the process into doubt.
  • Law is different than science in that law defers to precedent, without any mechanism for re-confirming prior evidence or the possibility of rejecting once-accepted results.
  • Perhaps it’s just the point of history we are in right now, where changes the past decade or two with the internet and social media have so polarized the political and cultural landscape, but recent Supreme Court decisions so predictably divide along party lines that, again, the integrity of the legal process is cast into doubt. If different judges can read the letters of the same laws, and evaluate the same evidences at hand, and reach opposite conclusions, then what does the law, or evidence, mean?

Which lands me at two, current, events.

The most egregious example of the last bullet is the case where all the conservative judges decided that it’s OK for town council meetings to begin with *Christian* prayers because 1) it’s traditional, and 2) most the town’s residents are Christians. To me, this completely misses the point of the First Amendment, and equality under the law in general, which is to prevent the majority from oppressing the rights of those not in the majority. (The theme behind all civil rights movements.) The solution should be to eliminate prayers from government meetings altogether. That way the issue of any kind of establishment of religion by the government would be avoided.

The second current event is the remarkable string of decisions by Federal judges overturning state laws that, one way or another, prohibit the marriages of same-sex couples. The idea that one judge is merely following the precedents of earlier judges doesn’t apply, I think, because the states don’t defer to each other. [But I hasten to add I’m no legal expert and may be wrong about this.] Rather, it seems, the various judges do read the arguments from previous decisions and reach consistent conclusions, because the issue is the basic one of equality before the law, and the conspicuous lack of evidence that allowing same-sex marriages causes any actual harm to anyone. (Again, the Regnerus study has been thoroughly debunked — if it were even relevant; are straight marriages approved on the basis of a couple’s suitability to raise children?) My impression of the right-wing/conservative Christian outrage over these decisions is that these people don’t truly accept the freedoms and equality before the law provisions of our Constitution; they only cite them when they’re convenient for themselves, since they have for so long been in the majority and assumed the privilege of social status that is not shared by various minorities. Equality before the law is fine, in principle, they would say — but not for them!! (Women, blacks, gays.) It’s a theme that goes back for centuries. Social progress is the correction for such presumptions of privilege, and it is still in work.

(As an aside, it continually baffles me why religious conservatives campaign for the display of the Ten Commandments [which set exactly? See link] in public places, insisting that they are somehow the basis for western civil codes if not the entirety of western civilization. Obviously, they are not. To wit: how many of those ten are actually enshrined into law? Two? (About murdering and stealing.) You know, the US is not a theocracy, which again is sorta the point of the First Amendment. These advocates should rather display the Bill of Rights, which are in fact the basis of the law in the United States. [And support the ACLU, as I do, whose mission is to defend those rights, even in unpalatable circumstances.])

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