I begin with a personal anecdote, my first courthouse experience. In the spring of 1968, as a young member of the Columbia faculty, I witnessed the student uprising that disrupted the campus for several weeks until the misguided administrative decision to call in the police-a decision that, inevitably, led to violence and bloodshed. Earlier that year I had been called to jury duty; like most academic colleagues receiving that call, I had postponed service until the end of the semester. Arriving at Manhattan criminal court in early June, I found the jury panels filled with members of the Columbia faculty. The corridors, on the other hand, seemed to be filled with our students, appearing to face charges of various counts of trespassing and resisting arrest.
The experience was equally memorable for another reason: the racial imbalance of the entire occasion. Not only in the case of my voir dire, but more generally, all of the accused seemed to be black, which brings me to the relevance of my experience to a discussion on representing justice and specifically to the paper Blind Justice by I. Bennett Capers. My first courthouse experience took place in what I believe is the central courtroom in Manhattan criminal court, where the judge sits under a mural depicting the figure of Justice. In this 1893 painting by Edward Emerson Simmons, she is pictured as a beautiful woman, blond and without the expected blindfold. Kneeling before her are two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, also blond. Each presents an object on a pillow to Justice: he a sword, she a lily. However the iconography of this painting may symbolize justice tempered by mercy, its most powerful impression on me was made rather by the Caucasian blondness of its figures, by its promise of exclusively white justice in a court in which the defendants were predominantly black.
"The Color of Justice and Other Observations: A Response,"
Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 24
, Article 15.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol24/iss1/15