Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seen to be done

You’ve probably heard the old saying: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." It was originally said by Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart in a case before the King’s Bench division. The case, Rex v. Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy (1924), reiterated the importance of judicial impartiality and the necessity for the recusal of judges. These are based on concepts of natural law, on which all legal systems descended from English law are based. In other words, they’re right at the heart of our system of justice.

This saying came up again recently (like in the video above) when it was revealed that US Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas took part in a gathering of multi-billionaires who were meeting to discuss how best to channel their money to elect conservative Republicans.

Later, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are supposedly just like real people and as such can spend unlimited money to elect candidates they favour—or, more accurately, candidates who will favour them once elected. Neither Justice Scalia nor Justice Thomas recused themselves, despite the fact they were ruling on a case that directly affected the same billionaires they’d met with.

At this point, no one is suggesting the ruling was a quid pro quo for the billionaires. But this raises serious questions about the impartiality of Scalia and Thomas, particularly when Thomas, at least, wasn’t entirely honest about the extent to which he’d be the beneficiary of the billionaires’ generosity.

What it all boils down to is simple: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." In the Citizens United case, justice was not seen to be done, and that, by definition, means that justice was not done. This serious transgression must be fully investigated—though I have absolutely no faith that it will be.

"Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." Personally, I doubt we’ll see either in this matter.

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