Sunday, October 01, 2006

Are we acting in the public interest if we challenge the fairness of the system?

When an individual or a newspaper challenges some element of the system, that is "rocking the boat." It may reduce confidence in the system. Is it better to do that or to let it slide? We can tell ourselves that it is better to live in an imperfect system, than in one in which people have lost confidence.

Recently, The New York Times has two articles casting doubt on two elements of the legal system. It pointed out that in much of New York state, local courts were presided over by people with no legal training or even, it seems, common sense. As a result, there have been the most egregious miscarriages of justice, with innocent people being sent to jail on no evidence at all. Today, the paper pointed out that as judges across the country need larger and larger campaign contributions to win re-election, these campaign contributions are influencing judgements. It used the Ohio Supreme court as an example where judges are apparently siding with their contributors.

We can also doubt the democracy of the "first past the post" electoral system, the democracy of the Senate, where Montana has the same number of Senators as California, and the House of Representatives, where electoral districts have been so gerrymandered that few incumbents face a meaningful challenge. Are we better off being aware of that, or are we happier being in ignorance of the facts?

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