Vail Daily column: The symbol of justice
In one incarnation or another, Justitia has been around since ancient Greece. Themis was the guardian of divine law and order. She was also the goddess of prophesy and of oaths. With Zeus, her offspring included the Fates and Dike, goddess of mortal justice. In Roman mythology, she was named Justitia.
Even if you don’t recognize the name (or names), you likely know her. She may be found adorning the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., and perched above the lintels of federal buildings, county courthouses and law schools all across the nation. The old girl plainly gets around.
She is known, too, by the name of Lady Justice. If you close your eyes, your mind will conjure up the image of her in flowing robes, the scales of justice held before her, the blindfold tied about her eyes, and the sword of justice raised with the righteous fury of the law. Sometimes, she may be found holding the “fasces” — a symbol of judicial authority — and a flame or torch standing for the truth — in her opposing hand. Now and again, she is styled with a scroll which, presumably, lays out the laws. There is much to commend that Lady Liberty was fashioned after her.
Why is justice symbolized as a lady, albeit one in ancient Greek and Roman depictions who looks like she could kick a little butt? Perhaps it was the pacifying influence of women on society. Or perhaps, instead, like maidenheads on battleships, she was a she for simple inspiration. Perhaps it was because only a lady could tame the male impulse to settle disputes on the battlefield instead of in a court of law.
What is essential to Justitia are the blindfold, scales and sword. These, like her flowing robe, are a constant. Why, to represent the law, do these three emblems persist across the millennia from ancient Greece to the Age of Miracles and Wonder?
First, there are the scales which represent the balance of the law. There are — the scales signify — two sides to every story and the law must balance them upon a disinterested fulcrum to come to justice. The scales impute impartiality and “evenness” in application of the law. The facts, circumstances, motivations and parties’ respective credibilities are placed upon the pans, weighed and considered in the hope that one version of the “truth” bears greater weight.
As ubiquitous to Justitia as Stevie Wonder’s dark glasses are to him is the blindfold that she bears which is meant to signify that justice is blind. No consideration will be given to one person over another owing to his or her status or position. The law is a salve to be applied evenly. The West Pediment of the Supreme Court building repeats this theme, carved into it are the words “Equal Justice Under Law.”
The sword is, perhaps, the most interesting feature. If justice and the laws are civilizing, why the sword which is sometimes raised, sometimes lowered and sometimes on her hip the way one would nestle a young child? It reminds us that justice should be swift and decisive and, perhaps more, that the power and authority of the state is behind it. The sword is typically double-sided with one side tilted toward “Reason” and the other toward “Justice.” Without the power and authority of the State to back it up, justice may ring hollow.
Lady Justice is allegorical; she has spread from Greece to Rome to many modern nations that pride themselves on impartiality and justice. Although we embrace her as one of the dear symbols of our nation and as part of our national heritage, she may be found too, in one guise or another, in such diverse nations as Brazil, Japan, Iran and the Western democracies of Europe. While she is an old, old gal, her message remains constant: to do justice, one must weigh the facts, be unprejudiced in application of the law and have the force of law behind you. Despite her age, she has the wind of equity and modern relevance at her back.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.