Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Oh, that quaint little notion called “the rule of law”...

Oh, that quaint little notion called “the rule of law”...  It's what keeps American citizens from being arbitrarily abused by the powerful ... or by mobs.  No matter who you are, the rule of law promises, the law will apply to you just as it does to any other citizen. 

We've never been a perfect example of the rule of law here.  Corruption is a big problem, though it's subtler and less widespread here than in many other places.  The rich and powerful can always find ways to use their money or their influence to help themselves or those they favor.  Nevertheless, it's generally true here that if someone breaks the law, they're going to be charged, prosecuted, and convicted by a jury. 

That last step – conviction by a jury – is subject to various kinds of manipulation, though.  Lawyers for defendants will try mightily to influence the jurors decision-making process, even if the conclusion desired doesn't follow the law.  There's even a name for this: jury nullification.  It's very controversial amongst legal academics, as it is an overt violation of the rule of law.  Jury nullification has a long history, many proponents, and some of its historical outcomes would be widely seen today as acceptable and even desirable.  And yet ... it's a clear violation of our vaunted rule of law.

Life is complicated :)

I don't have a clear position on the idea of jury nullification.  Both sides of the argument have compelling points, both pro and con.

Friend and former colleague Tim B. passed along an article detailing a current attempt at jury nullification (though the article doesn't mention that!).  Anyone who believes that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is about to bake the planet will most likely find this effort laudable.  Those of us who (like me) think that AGW is a gigantic fraud will likely find this to be a lamentable potential lapse in the rule of law.

I hate the idea that a mob of AGW supporters could stop completely legal development of energy resources.  But I'm not ready to condemn jury nullification...

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