The Distance Between Law and Justice

A friend of mine recently posted this about the recent Roman Polanski arrest. I know little about the case, and can say nothing intelligent about it. My friend's post, however, reminded me about Derrida's essay "Force of Law," which speaks of the fact that law can never equal justice.

If justice is a cosmic balancing scale upon which wrongs are righted, it's quite easy to see how law can never fulfill justice. Imagine a murderer who takes the life of another man. What caused the murder? The murderer? Yes. The older brother who tortured the murderer growing up? Yes. The murderer's father who abandoned his family? Yes. The mother who abused him? The mother's economic status? His teachers, his community, society as a whole with its violent television? Yes, yes, yes. All are complicit, all owe something on the scale of justice.

How could law ever calculate and accurately punish such a crime? The reality is that law is only enough of a deterrent to keep it from happening again. Only enough revenge to vindicate its victims. Only enough closure for society to bring resolution to the narrative of "justice" it has imposed upon a set of events -- a narration whose authors are trained in creating fiction (lawyers), whose audience is addicted to a happy ending (jurors).

But when the crime happens again, when the victims continue to lose sleep, and when society is still plagued by the narrative (consider the OJ Simpson case, for instance), we realize that the kind of retribution law dispenses has the propensity to leave behind ghosts with unfinished business: Justice.