Is America Necessary? Conservative, Liberal, & Socialist Perspectives of United States Political Institutions

By Henry Etzkowitz; Peter Schwab | Go to book overview

The Jehovah's Witnesses began the cracking with constitutional actions in the courts against the public's repression of an irregular and despised religion. Their work led to cases brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to permit an unpopular race the use of public schools and public places. Now these organizational actions have expanded into class actions for amorphous groups like consumers, and those with common political causes that are démarché from the rigor of party politics. In these we see beginnings of direct cooperation of the people in situations that somehow must be determined by themselves. The indivdual, meanwhile, is finding a personal candor essential, so that he lives more existentially the life style he preaches, as opposed to the conflicting say- do style of his parents.

Private and communal activities, sometimes rescuing participatory government from its mere rhetoric, are finding it more and more necessary to excuse lawyers of my generation from the further conduct of their affairs. Still, we old-timers may go happy and well fed to the grave, humming: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!" The new breed, being lawyers, should always be viewed with caution. We can only hope that they practice law with the same idealism and relevance that they brought with them into their legal studies, and that their help increases in the search Holmes began for a growing civility.


Socialist

Robert Lefcourt. Law against the people.

To the person who waits all day to pay a traffic fine, the young man who spends a few months in jail for possessing marijuana, the woman who finds no remedy in court for an exorbitant rent hike, the Black who still cries for implementation of "civil rights" legislation, and the student who resists serving in an illegal war, the judicial process appears to worsen pressing problems rather than solve them.

It is not only that the legal apparatus is time-consuming and expensive; that unjust laws remain unchanged; that the Supreme Court has long refused to consider such "political" questions as the continuing wars in Southeast Asia and the exclusion of nonwhites, young and poor people from most juries; and that the legal system has failed to meet the expectations of certain segments of society. The legal system is bankrupt, and cannot resolve the contradictions which, like air pollution, have grown visibly more threatening to society but whose resolution still is not given high priority.1

This bankruptcy is clearest in the priorities of law enforcement and in the criminal courts. Criminal courts protect existing economic, political, and social relations. Historically this role has created a pattern of selective law enforcement practices of which the white upper and middle classes are the beneficiaries. Bail requirements and plea bargaining victimize propertyless defendants who are, in effect, prejudged. The roles of the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and even the defense lawyer for the poor and near-poor reinforce the bias, because they are geared only to the efficient administration of overcrowded, understaffed, and dehumanized court bureaucracies. The proposed solutions of many court officials concentrate on material rather than human problems--automating court procedures, expanding facilities, allocating more funds. But the crisis in the legal system is more fundamental and cannot be cured by technical reform: it lies in the class-based and racist character of social relationships and in the court structures which maintain these relationships.


Who does the law protect?

"Jail the Real Criminals" --A poster seen at various demonstrations in the 1960s

-337-

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