“Equal Justice under Law” is inscribed on the facade of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The theory (uttered not by the Court but by the building’s architect) suggests that our government doles out justice blindly and equally, not only to the high and mighty but also to the lowly and powerless. The facade of equal justice is crumbling, however, and laid bare as a trompe-l’œil in recent news reports.
As revealed in the Wall St. Journal:
The Internal Revenue Service is offering leniency to many wealthy Americans who volunteer to pay taxes owed on assets stashed in offshore accounts, in exchange for information on the bankers who helped them hide the money. Taxpayers who take part in a new program being offered over the next six months will face lower penalties than would otherwise be due, and will likely avoid criminal prosecution, the agency said.
With similar lenity, the Justice Department has just announced that officials of the CIA who engaged in waterboarding and other forms of torture (based on legal memoranda that have since been repudiated) will not be prosecuted:
[Attorney General Eric Holder] also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.
The Attorney General has informed the Central Intelligence Agency that the government would provide legal representation to any employee, at no cost to the employee, in any state or federal judicial or administrative proceeding brought against the employee based on such conduct and would take measures to respond to any proceeding initiated against the employee in any international or foreign tribunal, including appointing counsel to act on the employee’s behalf and asserting any available immunities and other defenses in the proceeding itself.
To the extent permissible under federal law, the government will also indemnify any employee for any monetary judgment or penalty ultimately imposed against him for such conduct and will provide representation in congressional investigations.
When it comes to economic refugees, however, who crossed our border to take jobs cleaning toilets, wiping the bottoms of babies and the elderly, mowing yards and washing dishes, all to feed their families, the inJustice Department’s actions are robust and by-the-book. And even though deportation is a civil process, in the same way that suits against alleged torturers are civil proceedings, the accused who face immigration justice have no right to a lawyer at government expense.
Apparently, the IRS and the Justice Department understand the principle espoused by the English cleric Thomas Fuller (“rigid justice is the greatest injustice“), but don’t know when to apply it.