Monday, November 9, 2009

Another heavenly dialog: Justice Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Scene: Somewhere in heaven. A couple of dead Americans have been getting acquainted.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: I think that the second most important thing I ever said was in that letter I wrote from the Birmingham jail cell in 1963. May I quote myself?

Justice Robert Jackson (U.S. Supreme Court, 1941-1954): By all means!

MLK: “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself.”

Jackson: I totally agree. I talked about this same idea my concurring opinion in Railroad Express Agency v. N.Y. back in 1949. With your permission, I will also quote myself:

“There is no more effective practical guarantee against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principle of law which officials would impose upon a minority must also be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected. Courts can take no better measure to assure that laws will be just than to require that laws be equal in operation. …. [W]e are much more likely to find arbitrariness in the regulation of the few than of the many . . . “

MLK: Right on, brother!

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