In search of justice...and a Justice
Our text for today is Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Adonai your God is giving you.” The speaker is Moses, his audience the Israelites. Moses is lecturing to his people on the structures and statues that must be erected and executed in order to establish a stable nation that will have strong governance and fealty to God’s laws.
I was once taught by a rabbi that “there are no italics in the Torah.” To show emphasis, therefore, important words were repeated, such as in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” The fact that “justice” is repeated in the text at top indicated the prime importance of achieving not transient peace or order, but lasting, meaningful justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., was, of course, well aware of this when he wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….”
Justice is a noun, with multiple related meanings. It has the definition of a state of rightness, fairness, a concept that implies the best interests of all parties and contexts are met. It also is a profession. A justice is a judge, most notably a judge who serves on a supreme court. Today we are missing a justice in both senses of the term.
When United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, with an election nine months away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace conservative justice. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said at the time. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the 2020 election less than two months away, McConnell changed his stance, promising a vote on Trump’s nominee, expected to be named in days. In droves, Senate Republicans signaled their willingness to vote for that nominee.
That in itself is a towering injustice, and it is but the latest in a consistent string of injustices that have been perpetrated by Trump and his GOP lackeys ever since he took office. And yet, at the same time, it is more than an injustice. It is an immoral act. Justice Ginsburg’s body was not yet cold when Trump and McConnell conspired to replace her. In doing so, they acted in direct violation of her express wish that she not be replaced until after the election. In all the hubbub to get a nominee in place and prepare for hearings and a vote, the Republicans have not spent so much as seven seconds to honor this woman for all she has done for the cause of human rights in this country. To the GOP, it is as if she never existed. Their obnoxious disrespect for life is well-documented, and their treatment of dead heroes like Rep. John Lewis and Sen. John McCain is proof of their lack of class, compassion, and decency. As the Republicans trample on the memory and legacy of this great American, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, they are showing the fascist, hateful scales that cover their cold, dead hearts.
What we need more than anything in this country right now is justice for all—and a Supreme Court Justice who is committed to that ancient principle. Justice Ginsburg has left enormous shoes to fill. Anyone Trump nominates will disgrace her legacy and push the country further down a path where the fewest have the most and the most have the least. This tyranny must be prevented, for if we are not pursuing justice, just what exactly are we pursuing? Our own end, I fear.