George Graham

How Can Justice Be “Liberal” or “Conservative”?

Some people will consider me naive for writing this blog but I will have to live with that. The fact is that try as I might I cannot see how someone selected to dispense “justice” can do so in a consistently “liberal” or “conservative” manner. I do not see justice as a cultural concept but as an innate human need – like hunger or thirst. From earliest childhood, we know when we have been treated unjustly. The most primitive civilizations recognize injustice. And if people anywhere think they have been treated unjustly their instinct is to rage.

In my mind’s eye, I can see a Jamaican “country man” sharpening his machete and muttering to himself, preparing to seek revenge against someone who bilked him of his just earnings. It took several people and a lot of negotiation back and forth to avoid bloodshed that day.

courtSo when I hear the discussions over President Obama’s choice (not yet announced yet fiercely criticized!) to succeed Supreme Court Justice David Souter, I am left scratching my head. Souter is retiring next month, and this will be the new President’s first opportunity to appoint a member of the Supreme Court. Some people want a “liberal” to replace Souter and some want a “conservative.” I use the word “want” here not in the sense of “wish for” but as in “need” – urgently need. In this sophisticated society, justice has become a partisan matter but the partisans nonetheless retain their primordial hunger for their version of it.

As I ponder my own prejudices in the matter, I wonder whether King Solomon was liberal or conservative, indeed whether our Just God is “just” in a liberal way or a conservative way. The God I grew up hearing about is described as just but merciful. Is that liberal? Or compassionately conservative?

I hope President Obama won’t appoint a liberal to replace Justice Souter. (I doubt that he will appoint a conservative.) I know that the media describe Souter as siding with the “liberals”on the court, but that should not prejudice the President’s nomination. I hope that, as a lawyer, as a Constitutional Law professor, as a thinking individual who seems dedicated to fairness and decency, that he will choose a fair-minded person who really knows and understands the law.

And I hope that the new justice will view each case in the light of precedent and legislation, common law and common sense, without fear or favor. A judge with those qualifications might appear “liberal” to some people in some situations and “conservative” to other people in other situations, but that should matter not at all.

We should leave politics to the lawmakers and “justice” to the courts.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for