Rules are rules
”The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,” the judge said in an interview Wednesday.
”Of course, I can’t put a gun to anybody’s head and force the state to offer a plea bargain.”
County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined requests from the Beacon Journal to respond to the judge’s comments.
Part of what I was trying to get at elsewhere is that removing human discretion from the framework of our lives – be it at the hands of a detached bureaucrat or a bored customer service representative – makes a mockery of any system of rules. Our judicial system is not – and was never meant to be – a universally-applicable equation for arriving at just outcomes. Our legal culture is the result of bottom-up rule-making that relies on custom, discretion, and flexibility to function. Should a mother be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for enrolling her kids in a better school? Of course not, but that conclusion relies on an actual understanding of what the law is intended for, rather than some rigidly formalistic reading of the relevant statutes. It also requires local knowledge – an understanding of the woman’s circumstances – that can’t be acquired at arms length.
Human institutions are flawed, of course, but I’d rather confront casual favoritism or bigotry than the uncaring edifice of the bureaucracy.* I also believe that after decades of dramatic social and cultural change, our society has largely absorbed and internalized liberal norms about how to treat people who look or act differently.** Say what you will about the United States’ public culture, but I think we’ve done a reasonable job of eradicating – or at least delegitimizing – open prejudice. Considering our progress in this area, I’m willing to experiment with a return to localism.
*Of course, I could just be saying this because I’m a privileged white guy. Maybe your view of these issues depends heavily on your background.
**One reason I’m largely unmoved by criticisms of “political correctness” is that these norms reflect an evolving, imperfect, but still important understanding of how we should treat different people in the public square. Rather than top-down solutions like speech codes or quotas, unwritten rules of social conduct result from a host of different factors – from economic considerations to the practical experience of living in a multiracial society – and reflect a genuinely beneficial shift towards tolerance.