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Kyle Mcnair
Professor Howard
The Spectrum of Justice
It is hard to define justice without debating what is just. Unfortunately, what the courts
and the people deem to be just conflict with each other, depending on when and where you
happen to have lived. As time and man have progressed the blending of different cultures and
values have changed societys views of justice. The term justice comes from the Anglo-Norman
and Old French justicer, justiser, justisier, Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French
justicier (French justicier) to punish (a person) appropriately, to bring to justice (Justice). The
simplification of the term is where the question of what is justice comes from.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines justice as Maintenance of what is just or right by
the exercise of authority or power; assignment of deserved reward or punishment; giving of due
deserts (Justice). While I agree with the definition I have identified three problems that arise
when debating justice. First, what is viewed as just has changed drastically over the years. The
next problem is that the idea of justice changes from place to place. The final challenge in
defining justice is the difference between personal justice and societal justice. These problems do
however allow new generations to examine their society's views of justice, and alter them to
incorporate new cultural values which is necessary for the progression of a civilized society.


A prime example of how the idea of what is just has changed over time are laws
regarding marriages. From laws of Virginia Act XVI it states that Whatsoever English or other
white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman
bond or free shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this
dominion forever (Barnes-Craig). This law was on the books until the Loving Vs Virginia case
in which an interracial couple were arrested and sentenced to be banished from Virginia for 25
years. It wasnt until the case reached the Supreme Court that the law was struck down as being
in conflict with the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th amendment(Loving). It
took almost 300 years and a Supreme Court ruling to declare Virginias law unjust. 300 years in
which general coconscious deemed it acceptable to banish someone their home state just for
marrying a person of another race. While interracial marriage is no longer an issue, today the
marriage issue regards same sex couples. For years depending on the state same sex marriages
would not be issued or recognized. But thankfully we as a people no longer view banishment as
an acceptable form of punishment.
Unfortunately, even today opinions over what is just differs greatly from country to
country. Just a few years ago A 13-year-old Somali girl was found guilty of adultery after being
raped by three men and in accordance with the law she was stoned to death. (Somalia). This
punishment is not only acceptable in Somalia but similar cases can be found throughout many
Islamic countries where women who were raped have been forced into marrying their rapists to
avoid being convicted of adultery. While within these countries these cases are viewed as being
just, to the rest of the civilized world these are truly horrendous miscarriages of justice. In sharp
contrast with these countries view of justice is Norway where the maximum penalty under


Norwegian law is a 21-year imprisonment. Within the past few years there was a spree of
domestic terrorist attacks which killed over 70 people men women and children all killed by one
man who was arrested and convicted of every charge against him? And after all the horrible acts
he committed he received 21 years in prison (Murderer smirks). To me this screams of injustice
the fact that he isnt even spending a year per victim is horrible. The fact that these two situations
occurred within the past decade shows how even today there are no established views on what is
or isn't just. Until every country shares one idea of what is just we are doomed to hear ever more
horrendous stories of the pursuit of justice.
The concept of personal justice vs societal justice boils down to whether or not an
individual or a groups sense of justice is more important than the collective justice for the
society. This is problematic because as shown in the protests of the police force in the wake of
the Michael brown, Freddie gray, and other related incidents. When the officers involved arent
charged with murder or not charged at all the towns protests turned into riots because their sense
of justice wasnt met by society. When these situations arise they often unearth injustice at an
institutional level. The public can either come together and protest unjust situations, and
champion changes to society's views of justice, or they can stand aside and allow injustice to
fester and spread.
While the underlying principle of justice is a constant force. Due to ever shifting cultural
values, the societal understanding of what is just will always be changing. But is that a bad
thing? If our views on human liberties hadnt evolved over the years who can say what type of
dystopian state, the world would be in. I for one am glad that we are able to look at the ways and
beliefs each generation hold, and adapt the view of justice to fit the changing times.


Works Cited

Barnes-Craig, Pamela Slavery and Indentured servants LOC. 2001. web 8. Nov

Rape Victim Stoned to Death in Somalia Was 13, U.N. Says. NY Times.
REUTERS, 11. Nov 2008, web 11/8/2015

"justice, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 11
November 2015.

Ferran, Lee Mass Murderer Smirks at 21-year prison sentence ABC news.
24. Nov 2012.web 08. Nov 2015

Loving V. Virginia. U.S. Supreme Court. 12 June 1967.

Cornell Law, Jan. 1997. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.