The statue of Lady Justice, a blindfold over her eyes, holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other, is our traditional visual image of justice. The scales convey the idea of neutrality and the weighing of competing interests; they emphasize rationality and the application of neutral principles in decision making. The blindfold emphasizes equality before the law, that the law is dispassionate and objective, and that decision making is untainted by bias. The statue also implies the stability and permanence of the justice system.
In my experience with lawyers, justice is not a regular topic in our offices, in court, or in the law school classroom. Lawyers do, however, talk about justice on certain occasions. In speeches at Bar Association meetings, annual Law Day events, and law school graduations, the word "justice" frequently appears. Most often justice is used as part of the phrase "our justice system." The tone is celebratory: lawyers often claim that we have the best justice system on earth or the finest justice system ever created. The attributes of justice in the speeches are the same as those evoked by the statue image. ...
Our justice system is not living up to the ideals of equality and fairness promised by the statue with blindfold and scales. Moreover, justice contains more than can be captured in that image.
In this essay, I offer a different image of justice, that articulated by the biblical prophets. The prophetic image of justice is markedly different than our prevailing idea ofjustice. In explicating the prophetic vision, I draw upon two theologians and biblical scholars who write about the Hebrew prophets. In his book The Prophets, the great twentieth-century rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel eloquently described the prophetic passion for justice. The contemporary Protestant theologian and biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has also written with passion and insight about the prophets and justice, particularly in his landmark book The Prophetic Imagination. In the last portion of this essay, I explore the contrasting images-that of the scales and blindfold on the one hand and the prophetic image on the other-to one particular area of the American legal system, the death penalty system.
I submit that the prophetic image of justice offers new possibilities for transforming our justice system, and it holds great promise for delivering equal justice to all, particularly those marginalized by our current system.
Timothy W. Floyd, Lawyers and Prophetic Justice, 58 Mercer L. Rev. 513 (2007).