Blurred Lines

Have you ever noticed how something someone else said might not bother you but will agitate someone else? For instance, a person walking down the road dropping her new iPhone 6 to the ground exclaiming “Oh my God!” may in fact agitate some onlookers who find this remark to be incredibly blasphemous. Why does this occur? It is but a matter of interpretation of the word said. The phrase may carry of different significance for all around. To some, this remark is simply unacceptable since there might be certain institutional regulations that encourage people to refrain from using such language. However, for others that may not be the case. Regardless, let’s change the scenario and now extend the scope to include everyone here in the United States who is under the law and focus on interpretation of regulations.

When people to not adhere to the law, they are taken to court. It is then the judge’s job to interpret the law and act accordingly based off the materials presented to them. The important thing, which affects the outcome, is the interpretation of the law. As humans, we are flawed. The question then arises, how is it that humans, infallibly flawed, are able to arrive to conclusions on how to best interpret the law as is?

"Who am I to judge"

“Who am I to judge”

Antonin Scalia, labeled as an originist and textualist, is a member of the Supreme Court Justice who wrote a book, A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and The Law.  An originist is essentially a person who looks at the foundation of how and when a law is created. A textualist is a person who abides by what the text indicates. I interpret a textualist to view things as eitherright or wrong, black or white, according to the law. Interestingly, Scalia mentions how much is considered when looking at the letter of the law. Decisions that have been made in previous cases are looked at to serve as a model. What is more noteworthy is the fact that previous cases, in which the case is similar but the outcome is different , are more likely to be searched for as it serves as qualifications.

At first, I did not pay much attention to this. I mean, judges are supposed to be good at what they do, right. Right? The “Case of the Speluncean Explorers” opened my eyes. Here’s a quick rundown: Five men are stuck underground as a result of an unexpected landslide, isolating them for almost a month. During the first week, they had communication with the outside world, during which one of them had inquired if they would be able to live with the rations they had. Unfortunately they would not be able to. Upon knowing this information, they then asked how long they would last if they ate one of their peers. Long story short, they ate one of the peers who had said they were not willing to participate in the determining of who they would eat. They had resorted to this after authorities outside refused to say whether or not to resort to eating one of them or how to determine doing so. Alas, once the four of five men were rescued, the judges were presented with a very difficult case. Would these men be acquitted or affirmed for eating one of their peers based of the law stating that a man who willing murders a man is guilty of murder? All the judges presented various reasons as to why they would acquit or affirm them, and one withheld his judgment.

Some of us proclaimed them to be guilty while others would’ve acquitted them. Sticking strictly to the law, they are guilty. Yet, under the circumstances they were faced with, I believe these men should be acquitted based on the notion that it is very unlikely that these men would find themselves in this. Basically, I interpret the law of a person willingly taking the life of another as not applicable to these men as a result of the scenario they were in. Some may state that according to law, regardless of the situation, are indeed guilty as they did murder their peer.

If you were a judge, what would you have done?

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5 Responses to Blurred Lines

  1. imdebock says:

    Thanks for your brilliant summary of that case. The case in question was a tragic one involving loss of lives. The situation was so pathetic that those with soft hearts will judge the case based on the situation. I must admit that Justice Scalia and I would have sentenced the four men to death based on the interpretation of the statute of that country. It was evident in the in the case when Justice Keen who is in my camp quoted the N.C.S.A. (N.S.) 12-A which states the “Whoever shall take the life of another shall be punished by death.” ( Period). The willful killing of Roger Whetmore was wrong. The problem about the interpretation of the statute is that it is too strict in terms of interpreting the law. I believe that is why most people do not like it.
    Secondly, everyone who read that case knew the five men suffered together under the cave. My question is who does one think among the five men wanted to die under the cave? The answer is no one. Why then they four men took the life of Roger Whetmore? It was because of hatred minds. I may assume even if the cave issued had not come up, the four men would have found another means to kill Roger since they were taken adventure. My final verdict will be the four men were found guilty of murder and therefore should be punished to death.
    Thanks.

  2. naherresp says:

    As a judge appointed to this case, I would review all evidence presented and definitely take into consideration that these men were not in their natural environment. They were faced with extreme circumstances that most likely affected their mental state. The urge to survive would make anyone do whatever need necessary to live. I would acquit these men from murder. On a side note, being a judge I believe is a toilsome job. They must review laws that were written decades ago and interpret them into today’s society could be quite troublesome. I can imagine they too find themselves in horrific binds because they’re dealing with once life.

  3. cacunni1 says:

    Excellent post regarding Scalia and the Speluncean explorers. I find the originalist and textualist arguments to be equally unconvincing because I believe that the both make the same basic mistake when it comes to interpreting the law. In the case of the originalists, the look at the intentions of the creators of the laws, as well as the political climate at the time, etc. However, the law was made to endure, and in order for the law to endure, it either has to adapt with the times or be reinterpreted with the times. Furthermore, by even considering history in their decisions they are in fact INTERPRETING history. The textualist ordains to claim that there can be one consistent way to interpret the law throughout history. Frankly, I find this claim ridiculous. If there were one right way to interpret the law we would not have 9 Supreme Court Justices. Instead, we would have one. The law lives and changes with each new judge that interprets the law.

  4. gchanneyla says:

    I really liked your analogy about using the phrase “oh my god” and how that can be interpreted by others when the same is done with the law. I still battle with choosing whether these men were guilty of a crime or not, but in the grand scheme of things the greater issue lies with what the law says and what it doesn’t say. Interpreting and/or applying the law is a difficult task indeed, but it is a task that needs to be done appropriately. As stated in the previous comment both the originalist and textualist are interpreting something, with that said I believe the law needs to adapt to the times because opinions and cases are not all the same therefore applying and/or interpreting the law accordingly is the only way decisions should be made.

  5. kiracanderson says:

    I believe that the problem with judges that strictly adhere to the letter of the law is that the law, and society with it, is ever-evolving. There are always going to be grey areas in the justice system, and this case is wrought with grey.
    First of all, this is an exceptional case. It is not as clear-cut as Justices Keen and Truepenny would like to think. The law says one may not kill another. Does this apply to capital punishment? Abortion? Self-defense? War? These are all exceptional circumstances. We cannot apply law to all areas without considering the context.
    Our Constitution was written over 200 years ago. Since then, only 27 amendments have been successfully ratified. Only 27 updates in 200 years? My phone updates more often than that. Of the 27, the 21st is just invalidation of the 18th, and the most recent amendment was adopted in 1992.
    The Constitution is a legal framework, but it is not intended to have the answer for every situation. Judges are needed to fill in the holes. This is why even the idea of strict textualists confuse me. What does a textualist do in a case regarding technology? Or racial considerations? Situations that are not even alluded to in the Constitution?
    The more society grows and changes, the less strict we will need to be in interpreting the Constitution and the more accepting we will have to be of “spirit of the law” and contextual consideration in legal determinations. Justice Foster was the most progressive, forward-thinking judge in the case, and is how I hope the judiciary rules in the year 4300.

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