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Celebrate the rule of law

Two cases. Two verdicts. Justice done

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski speaks with defense lawyers at the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery Associated Press/Photo by Stephen B. Morton (Pool)

Celebrate the rule of law

Two weeks. Two major court cases. Justice done in each.

In the span of just a few remarkable days—between last Friday’s Kyle Rittenhouse verdict and Wednesday’s guilty verdict against the killers of Ahmaud Arbery—America has been shown examples of how our justice system is supposed to work. What have Americans seen? Facts, evidence, deliberation, juries, the absence of mob influence—and above all, the rule of law.

As Americans, we should be grateful for the rule of law as an integral building block of Western civilization. It contradicts both mobs and media narratives and insists that every individual is equal before the law and entitled to the same system of law as everyone else. No one—no politician, billionaire, or pauper—ought to have preference before the law. As Christians, we recognize the rule of law as an inheritance received from the Christian moral tradition (Genesis 9:5-6; Deuteronomy 19:15-21). Believing all individuals are equal before God, justice in turn requires giving each their due. Justice is never arbitrary or capricious. Justice, rather, hinges upon impartiality, which the Bible explicitly commands (Leviticus 19:15; Psalm 98:9; Romans 2:11).

These were two very controversial cases, and there were questions about whether justice could be achieved in either. In the Rittenhouse case, a reckless and irresponsible media confused more often than they clarified, leaving out vital facts and evidence. In the Arbery case, doubt arose whether a majority-white jury in the South could reach a verdict without race playing a factor. Both juries succeeded. Both trials showed the wisdom of the jury system.

Commenting on the Rittenhouse verdict, National Review writer and lawyer Andrew McCarthy wrote on Twitter last week that, “Next week, when the guys who killed Ahmaud Arbery get convicted, we’ll be back here saying justice was done. It’s called law and evidence. It’s not a morality play or a ‘narrative.’” McCarthy’s analysis was prescient. McCarthy’s quip reflects the mandate of impartiality: It ought not matter what one “wants” to happen—what matters is factual representation of what occurred in conjunction with unbiased legal interpretation. Such occurred in both cases. What more can we ask of our fellow citizens?

These criminal cases serve as a reminder that the true, impartial administration of justice does not fit into our pre-programmed and ideological boxes. The law does not answer the question many have pressed: Should young Kyle Rittenhouse have gone to Kenosha? That was not the question entrusted to the jury. Their responsibility was to decide if Rittenhouse had violated the law, and in the exact terms of the criminal indictment against him.

What about the law’s provision for self-defense? Well, the law is the law. If the law is in error, change it through lawful means, not mob action. But keep in mind that the self-defense argument is close to the heart of the American legal tradition.

If we care about justice, it means we refuse to apply unequal standards of analysis. Wrong is wrong. Right is right. This sense of justice cuts against the grain of unbridled passion and prejudice, and for that we should be thankful.

Both cases are also a rebuke to those who prejudge situations without being in possession of all the necessary and relevant facts. Our culture is too quick and hasty to want a situation to confirm our own biases. In a craven social media age like our own, too many of us—including Christians—fail to heed Scripture’s command to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” and “slow to anger” (James 1:19). We too easily accept and chase the media’s narrative, only to learn eventually that ideologues in our national media grossly erred in service to their ideological predilections. In the onslaught of hot takes and virtue signaling, we too easily want to let our righteousness shine before man. The exercising of restraint and the quest for truth are political virtues in short supply. Let it not be for the Christian.

Whenever an injustice occurs, human nature desires satisfaction. As Christians, we understand that true justice exists and is longed for by the “law written on their heart” (Romans 2:15). The universal longing for all to be set right reflects the standard of righteousness grounded in God’s holy nature. In the name of God, seek justice, and honor it.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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