"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," 16 Apr. 1963, in Why We Can't Wait 77, 79 (1964).
To the members of the Colorado Law Community,
Given that many of us are, by study or profession, engaged with law, it is easy to imagine that the contemplation of justice is ever before us as an ideal legal concept of simple, instinctive, and shared values of fairness. However—as we find ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of professional obligations, to-do lists, and family responsibilities—it can be easy to neglect the important work of connecting our ideals to our realities. Today as we engage in Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observances, I invite you all to reflect on the work of Dr. King in the context of equality and racial justice and to consider, more broadly, the meaning of justice.
Justice is sometimes confused with judgment. Judgment is an operationalizing of justice—it is the act of thought that affirms or denies, and presumably posits the truth. Judgement is the stopping point of a problem, which ends in a decision. Judgement, however, can often be the opposite of how we imagine justice to be, for judgment is often complex, not always intuitive or logical, and sometimes it is singular and discriminatory. It is for these reasons that some people of color who find themselves subject to inequitable judgements mock the notion of justice with the bitter phrase: “Just-us.”
One of the great privileges that we have is that we can always do better and be better. Going forward from this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I ask you to seek greater mutuality between justice and judgment—in sum, I ask that you embrace justice as shared power that demands the recognition of and respect for the rights of others. And as the spring semester is poised to kick off (and that familiar whirlwind picks up speed), I wish you an enjoyable day of reflection and a renewed feeling of inspiration as we pursue a more just world together.
Dean and Provost’s Professor of Law
University of Colorado Law School