Tag Archives: law

Tolerance and the Spirit of Liberty

The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit that weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.
Judge Learned Hand, 1944

…and alas a spirit that is noticeably absent from the current
political and cultural landscape.

Hartwick Pines, Michigan

Photo Challenge: Winter’s Elements–“Cruel and Fierce Storms”

Would you believe the elements of a Michigan January: Earth, Air, Water & Frozen Water?

As I read in a colorful legal opinion from long ago, “They that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places . . .”

Photo Challenge:  Elemental   

Fleming Creek, Michigan

Newburgh Lake, Michigan

A Great Legal Voice Stilled

newburgh lake, michigan

Once I  had the chance to talk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who passed away yesterday.  I was in law school in Detroit , and he gave a talk on the Constitution at the nearby University of  Michigan.  Justice Scalia’s presentation proved to be  insightful, as I had expected.  After finishing, he took questions from the audience.  The first questioner gave a diatribe against  Scalia’s views.  The guy went on and on, and eventually voices from the audience called out,  What’s the question?  Scalia smiled and said mildy, “His question is:  don’t you agree with everything I’ve just said.”  Laughter rippled through the crowd, and the “questioner” looked sheepish.

I was next in the queue and asked Scalia a question about a legal doctrine that has been in the news since the Flint, Michigan lead-in-the- water debacle: sovereign immunity. (In the United States, you usually cannot sue the government)  Scalia answered, but then I had something to add, and he politely answered me again.  I’ve thought about that exchange today, and realized that Scalia was more right than I was–no surprise, really, considering the disparity in our experiences.

I think that Justice Scalia’s passing is a great loss to the United States.   Judicial conservatism will miss  his articulate voice.  The Supreme Court has lost the most powerful legal mind of the last 25 years, in my opinion.   I often disagreed with Justice Scalia–maybe usually–but I also learned a great deal from reading his opinions, which are  lessons in how to reason.

As the Bard asked, When comes such another?  I think we may have to wait some time.

Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

let he who is without sin cast the first stone

Reclaiming the spirit of the law


A feverish look shines from the eyes of a young woman as three men in cloaks  of fine linen march her into the village square. Her skin is the color of olives; her long, dark hair is not plaited.  She wears a plain robe woven from wool and on her feet sandals of leather. Derisive catcalls and cries of “Adulterer!” “Harlot!” greet her from the gauntlet through which she is pushed and prodded. The white disk of the noonday sun allows no  forgiving shadows.

 The local Inquisitors are using the young  woman as bait, setting a trap to ensnare an itinerant rabbi from far-off Nazareth, who teaches in parables and dares to question their authority. They confront him as he stands near the well, observing the trial about to begin. The laws of Moses command that adulterers be stoned, they taunt him, what say you about this one?

Jesus knows his foes well, these thin-lipped dogmatists of the letter of the law. In all their studies of the prophets, they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. He has foiled their stratagems before, and he regards them with an expressionless scorn. The crowd impatiently awaits his reply.  Stones in hand, they have their work to do. Jesus does not speak immediately, but instead writes on the ground as he composes an answer to reclaim the spirit of the law. Rising to his feet, he looks over the crowd and says in a voice that carries to the far side of the square:

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”

Jesus fixes a steady gaze on the Inquisitors, as their smirk of arrogance fades. Those among the crowd who a minute ago were crying for the woman’s blood now have silent tongues. The faintest of breezes rustles the leaves on the sycamore trees. Somewhere in the distance, a child cries. The  Pharisees are reduced to shuffling away in silence; not a word of response have they spoken. They are convicted by their own consciences. The crowd disperses, pondering Jesus’ words. “What does it mean?” a voice asks. No one has a ready answer.

The young woman alone remains with Jesus. She stands silently, in a daze. The cold sweat trickles down her back. I do not condemn you, Jesus says, and she feels the strength returning to her legs. She begins to weep, as relief flows  through her like a river. But Jesus is not one for situational ethics.    He places a hand on her shoulder and says,  “Go, and sin no more.” Before leaving, the woman gets a cool cup of water from the well and offers it to Jesus. He smiles, but with sadness in his eyes, and thanks her.

For one sun bleached afternoon, the law tempered with mercy is redeemed from the ones with bloodless lips who would see it etched into stone. Jesus has spared a woman who broke one of Moses’ laws; in so doing, he has invited the wrath of the patriarchs.  Jesus knows that soon they will have their day.