The word justice can be loosely defined as the principle of moral correctness; equity; the quality of being just; strict adherence to moral obligations; uprightness; and practical conformance to divine and human law. The underlying premise of justice is to do what is morally right and correct. The question is often raised as to whether justice really exists. If one were to shoot into a yard full of children, and in the process get killed, does that necessarily mean that justice was served. Perhaps the shooter deserved death, but it does not seem that the children or their parents received justice.
Justice varies from culture to culture and is influenced by the history, religion and mythology of that culture. Every culture has its own set of ethics and values that shape its system of justice. In many cultures, capital punishment is outlawed while in some cultures, the death penalty is an integral part of the justice system. What is considered justice in one culture can be injustice in another.
Justice is mentioned numerous times in some of the most important documents of the United States, such as the Declaration of Independence, Pledge of Allegiance and Constitution. Although the word appears so often, theologians, philosophers and legislators are constantly trying to come up with an exact definition for it. The word fairness is often used interchangeably with the word justice. Everybody wants and deserves to be treated fairly, regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves, and people should not be treated differently because of gender, race or color.
The assurance of justice is essential to American society. A leader seeking legitimacy from the people must constantly be on guard to uphold that the laws of the land and to justly administer them. A leader that favors one group over another and does not treat everybody justly or equally loses credibility.
The history of the United States is replete with examples of injustice. The most poignant example began with the advent of slavery when white people discriminated against the black people in every facet of their lives. It was not until many years later, long after slavery was abolished, that black people received justice and were treated as equal to white people.
People have often asked what, if anything, can be done to compensate people who have suffered an injustice. Black people have often asked the United States government to accept responsibility for slavery and to give them proper restitution for the injustices and unequal treatment suffered by their ancestors.
When a crime has been perpetrated, both the victim and the transgressor are subject to the justice system. To the offender, justice is in the form of a punishment and to the victim, in the form of compensation. Justice also dictates that the punishment ultimately fits the crime. Crimes are handled in proportion to their severity. A person who committed a capital offense is treated differently than a juvenile who stole an ice cream. The goal for the victim is to see the offender punished or fined.
Many have argued that since equality is such an integral part of justice, governments should concern themselves with distributive justice that is, the equal allotment of goods and wealth to all citizens. One manifestation of distributive justice is the welfare systems that operate in many West European countries.
Justice can therefore be seen as a comprehensive and universal set of principles that are used as a guide in judging and differentiating between right and wrong. It is up to each individual society to uphold its morals and treat all of its people equally and fairly.