The Right to Judge

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Let him decide for himself to accept or decline. You would think he would know better.


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These examples show how important it is that we do not judge, but encourage rather than denounce. It seems he is saying that unless we are without fault, we are not qualified to judge. The Lord had rejected Saul as king of Israel and instructed the prophet Samuel to choose a new king. He told him to go to the house of Jesse, who had eight sons, and that while there the anointed one would pass before him and Samuel would know who was to be chosen.

When the first son, Eliab, came before him, Samuel thought he was the chosen one, but the Lord refused him and then gave the prophet Samuel the key as to how to judge:. Each of the seven sons then passed before Samuel and was rejected. Then David, the youngest, was sent for and was approved by the Lord. The reason, therefore, that we cannot judge is obvious.

We cannot see what is in the heart. We do not know motives, although we impute motives to every action we see. They may be pure while we think they are improper. It is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. Because of a different environment, unequal opportunity, and many other things, people are not in the same position. One may start at the top and the other at the bottom, and they may meet as they are going in opposite directions.

Someone has said that it is not where you are but the direction in which you are going that counts; not how close you are to failure or success but which way you are headed. How can we, with all our weaknesses and frailties, dare to arrogate to ourselves the position of a judge? At best, man can judge only what he sees; he cannot judge the heart or the intention, or begin to judge the potential of his neighbor.

When we try to judge people, which we should not do, we have a great tendency to look for and take pride in finding weaknesses and faults, such as vanity, dishonesty, immorality, and intrigue. As a result, we see only the worst side of those being judged. Our news media today also seem to be interested mainly in controversial subjects or someone who is being attacked; and regardless of the ninety-nine good things one may do, it is the one weakness or error that alone is emphasized and heralded to the world.

Sometimes even when our friends are accused of wrongdoing or gossip is started about them, we disloyally accept and repeat what we hear without knowing all the facts.

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It is sad indeed that sometimes friendships are destroyed and enmity created on the basis of misinformation. If there be one place in life where the attitude of the agnostic is acceptable, it is in this matter of judging. I am waiting for further evidence. I must hear both sides of the question. Only by suspending judgment do we exhibit real charity.

How Judging Relates to Unbelievers

It is hard to understand why we are ready to condemn our neighbors and our friends on circumstantial evidence while we are all so determined to see that every criminal has a fair and open trial. Surely we can try to eliminate pride, passion, personal feeling, prejudice, and pettiness from our minds, and show charity to those around us. Let us look for the good rather than try to discover any hidden evil. We can easily find fault in others if that is what we are looking for. Even in families, divorce has resulted and families have been broken up because the husband or wife was looking for and emphasizing the faults rather than loving and extolling the virtues of the other.

Let us remember too that the further out of line or out of tune we ourselves are, the more we are inclined to look for error or weaknesses in others and to try to rationalize and justify our own faults rather than to try to improve ourselves. Almost invariably, we find that the greatest criticism of Church leaders and doctrine comes from those who are not doing their full duty, following the leaders, or living according to the teachings of the gospel. An outstanding example of this can be found in the story of Cain and Abel.

How much better would his situation have been had he congratulated and honored his brother and set about to improve himself and correct his own failings. Let us examine our own lives and actions, bring ourselves in tune with righteous principles, and never attack or spread misinformation about others. Gossip is the worst form of judging. The tongue is the most dangerous, destructive, and deadly weapon available to man.

A vicious tongue can ruin the reputation and even the future of the one attacked. They are so stealthy and cowardly that one cannot guard against them. The second received 30 days. One response to such a divergence would be to say that one of these judges judged badly. Frankel did not blame the judges another ironic example of the pervasive unwillingness to judge.

Instead, Frankel—U.

Why We Must Judge : Democracy Journal

What was needed, he argued, was a legislatively approved system of consistent and scientific guidelines for sentencing. For liberals, the failure of judges was evident in the sterner penalties often meted out by white judges to African-American defendants or for crimes with white victims. For conservatives, the failure was clear in the tendency of soft-hearted judges to cite mitigating circumstances such as poverty, poor upbringing, and genetic predispositions to reduce punishments.

What both liberals and conservatives agreed upon was that there existed a crisis in judgment according to which similarly situated criminals were receiving radically divergent sentences. Nearly every state in the nation has passed some version of sentencing reform.


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The bill was signed with great fanfare by Ronald Reagan. Sentencing reform was, as Justice John Paul Stevens has written, a bipartisan attack on the power of judges. Whereas previously judges had unlimited authority to sentence criminals to the punishment they deserved, now every punishment began with a base number.

That number could be raised or lowered based on specific sentencing factors—the number of prior convictions, the use of a gun, or the existence of racial animus. Some of these sentencing schemes set up mandatory guidelines for judges to follow. Others made the guidelines advisory. And alongside the guidelines exist hundreds of state and federal laws that mandate minimum sentences for particular crimes.


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What all the various state and federal sentencing reforms share is a distrust of judicial judgment and the desire to limit judicial authority. In the case United States v. Booker , the Supreme Court invalidated the part of the federal Sentencing Reform Act that permitted judges to increase the numerical score for a sentence. The opinion had no effect on the mandatory minimum sentence laws on the state or the federal level. After Booker , judges must still calculate the numerical offense level and offer justifications for any departures; all sentences, even those within the guidelines, remain subject to appellate review.

Federal sentencing law in the United States is largely thought to be in a period of flux and in need of further congressional action. It is likely that the power of judges to adjudge a criminal to a particular punishment tailored to the person and situation will remain a distant memory. The troubling decline of judgments by juries and judges has its analogue in the abdication of judgment on the Supreme Court as well. Souter took aim at what he saw as a fear of judgment amongst his former colleagues.

According to Souter, his brethren—the highest judges in the land—have fallen prey to the same fear of judging that has infected the wider culture. Judging—and it is symptomatic of our adjudicatively timorous age that one needs to make so remedial a statement as the following—demands making difficult judgments. As Souter said:. A choice may have to be made, not because language is vague, but because the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, like most people, to have things both ways. We want order and security, and we want liberty.

And we want not only liberty but equality as well. These paired desires of ours can clash, and when they do a court is forced to choose between them, between one constitutional good and another one. The court has to decide which of our approved desires has the better claim, right here, right now, and a court has to do more than read fairly when it makes this kind of choice. For Justice Antonin Scalia, justice demands, above all, clear and simple rules that guarantee predictability. Convicted of a double murder by a Texas jury in , Herrera was sentenced to death. After appealing without success, Herrera filed a federal writ of habeas corpus, claiming that procedural errors should invalidate his verdict.

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His petition was denied. Then in , shortly before Herrera was to be executed, a new witness came forward with evidence that, if true, would have exonerated Herrera. Herrera filed a new writ of habeas corpus arguing that the new evidence of his innocence should, at the very least, require a new trial to determine his guilt. The Supreme Court denied his petition, and Herrera was executed. Roberts was, at the time, the deputy solicitor general under President George H. In our view, the Constitution does not guarantee the prisoner such a right.

The law, as Roberts understands it, is a system of rules that has no necessary connection to justice beyond the rules. My job is to play the game according to the rules. Thus contemporary tort law holds that if spilling oil into a stream carries a penalty that a company is willing to pay, then the company can spill its oil, pay its fine, and go on with its business.

This view presupposes that the primary goal of law is the orderly and efficient resolution of disputes, even at the risk of doing injustice. In such a game, the unruly and singular act of judgment cedes the field to the orderly and certain march of rules. We so fear judgment today that we banish it from public life. We even banish it from law.

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Because judgment is unruly, singular, and unpredictable. It is personal instead of objective and grounded in prejudices at the expense of rationality. It asserts a truth amidst skepticism about truth. It thus rejects the liberal values of relativism, equality, and scientific objectivity that define our time.