With all the talk of socialism lately, prompted by various Democratic Party presidential candidates proudly owning the term, I’m proposing something here that 1) has no logical counter-argument; and 2) has no prayer of ever becoming reality in this country.
In other words, while this proposal makes perfect abstract sense, it will never happen.
It’s socialized law.
I’ll challenge anybody to explain how justice is served when someone with the money to hire a great lawyer can obtain more justice, can enjoy a reduced chance of conviction and prison, debt and bankruptcy, than someone who can’t afford the aforementioned great attorney.
How can a justice system be just when at its core is this fundamental flaw – justice can be bought?
I’m not talking about with bribes or extortion, but just the basic fact that some lawyers are much better than others, by virtue of intelligence, cleverness, education, experience. And some have far greater resources to draw from. As in any commodity in a capitalist system, all else being the same, quality in legal skills and support services usually will command higher fees. Not always but most of the time.
So, no doubt about it, in this country (and most others), if you can afford the better attorney, you have a greater chance of obtaining a better form of justice. Sometimes it’s the difference between acquittal and conviction, victory and defeat.
This applies in corporate law, criminal law, civil law, every type of law.
Get into trouble with the law, or become the defendant in a lawsuit, and here’s the sort of conversation that might ensue:
You: “Oh, man, I got busted last night for drunk-driving.”
Your friend: “Sorry, bro, you’re going to need a good lawyer.”
You: “Any recommendations? I don’t want to spend a lot of money.”
Your friend: “I know an attorney who’s very good at getting people reduced charges for DUIs, or maybe even getting them off entirely. But sorry, she’s definitely going to cost you.”
You (with sad face): “OK, I’ll pay whatever it takes.”
On a higher level, whatever eventually happens to President Trump, with regard to the multitude of investigations swirling around him, his presidency, his 2016 election campaign, his family and his business, largely will reflect what sort of legal representation he receives. Of course, that goes with the proviso that he actually listen to this very expensive legal advice. (OK, I’ll admit this example isn’t perfect.)
But you get the point.
Our legal system has no resemblance to the sort of blind justice emblemized in the blindfolded Lady Justice, a balance scale in her hands (though the version standing atop the Athens County Courthouse has no blindfold). If anything, the base inequity in the American legal system is worse than the situation with free-market health care, where a person’s relative wealth very much determines the sort of health care he or she will receive in this country.
While I firmly believe that health care should be a right, not a privilege, you won’t find it mentioned in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. The concept of blind, impartial justice, on the other hand, is enshrined in our foundational principles.
Granted, the American justice system has a few token gestures to mitigate the core inequality that makes fair and equal legal representation an impossible goal, but they’re slim pickings compared to what authentic fairness would look like. While it’s great that government-subsidized public defenders and legal aid agencies are available to represent poor people (even though their budgets are under constant attack), they usually can’t hope to perform anywhere near the same level as an established, reputable law firm, backed up by an army of talented clerks and investigators and a limitless budget.
If you want to argue that people with piles of money deserve a better form of justice, and that that’s just part of capitalism, congratulations, you win a kewpie doll for honesty.
While you won’t win a Nobel Price for being a decent human being, at least you’re not trying to lather us in BS by arguing that a justice system whose outcomes can vary radically depending on the quality ($$) of representation is either fair or just.
So now that I’ve laid out an unassailable argument for socialized law, it’s time to explain why it will never happen anywhere but in an abstract parlor game.
Aside from the fact that I’ve never actually heard anyone seriously suggest that the practice of law should be socialized, I’m not sure what it would look like.
Presumably, a socialized system of law would require all lawyers to receive the same rate of pay. If different pay grades were created, to reflect different levels of experience and training, lawyers from different grades could not face each other in specific criminal or civil cases. A lottery system would be necessary to match clients with lawyers.
But that's just idle speculation. For a variety of reasons, the socialized practice of law will not happen in the United States in the foreseeable future. For one thing, it would require lawyers in high positions of government to support a change that they wouldn't see as helping them.
So for better or worse, we’re stuck with the current system. Yet I’d argue that funneling substantially more money into public defense and legal aid would move us closer to the sort of fair and impartial justice that we Americans always pretend exists in our country.
So what has this little exercise accomplished? Not much, other than hopefully persuading you to have a more realistic outlook on the limitations of justice in our nation. Next time you hear the term “blind justice,” try not to chortle aloud.
The good news is that socialized health care is very much achievable, and has been operating successfully in any number of countries with vibrant economies and health outcomes superior to what we have in the U.S.
One for two’s not bad.