15 March 2011

To Establish Justice

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ...
Preamble, United States Constitution
I might have become an attorney. During my junior year of college I attended the prelaw meetings, consumed advice concerning preparation for law school, digested information from representatives of law schools that visited my college to discuss legal careers, took steps to prepare for the LSAT. Moral qualms put an end to this activity.

Two Political Science courses--Constitutional Law (PolS 300) and Civil Liberties (PolS 402)--cultivated my interest in the Bill of Rights, my commitment to equal justice under law, and some minimal comfort with legalese. The entire sequence of U.S. history courses that I packed under my belt broadened my understanding of the ongoing struggle to bring American realities in line with American ideals. President Reagan, who assumed command during my sophomore year, may have echoed John Winthrop's appropriation of a metaphor from the Sermon on the Mount to describe the U.S. nation as a "city upon a hill," but the light, it seemed to me, was directed into people's eyes more so than upon the path toward justice. Embarking upon a massive program of consuming U.S. history texts while watching the President serve up the imaginary food of Peter Pan's banquets proved to be a recipe for indigestion.

The Bill of Rights was under attack. American liberties struggled against the rhetoric of freedom. American values were the daily fare. More and more, however, the meat and potatoes that tasted so good appeared to be full of unnatural additives. They added flavor and aided digestion, but evidence began coming to light that cancer would be the long-term consequence of such a diet.

How should I earn my slice of the American pie? Defending guilty criminals seemed to be the means of keeping civil liberties off the butcher's block. Cultivating the raw truth that revealed how history books had been cooked appealed more fully to my sense of moral fiber. My stomach ached less when I contemplated prosecuting those that lied about the past than when I contemplated protecting those that might be guilty from a rush to judgment on the basis of inadequate or tainted evidence. I remained committed to my youthful quest to become a history teacher. I chose history over law, and in graduate school the history of Federal Indian law pulled me back to a steady diet of legalese.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pats and peoples,

My name is Barbara O’Brien and I am a political blogger. Just had a question about your blog and couldn’t find an email—please get back to me as soon as you can (barbaraobrien(at)


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