Essay Read by Constituting America Founder, Actress Janine Turner
The United States Constitution, ratified in 1788, has stood as a beacon of democratic principles and rule of law for over two centuries. One of its most profound contributions is the pursuit of “justice for all,” an ideal engraved in the Pledge of Allegiance. The preamble to the Constitution sets the tone by stating one of the document’s purposes as to “establish Justice.” This phrase signifies the Framers’ intent to create a system of governance that promotes fair treatment and equality under the law, a cornerstone of justice.
“Justice for All,” Generally, in the Constitution
The Constitution’s first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, are crucial to achieving “justice for all.” These amendments protect individual liberties and limit governmental power, thereby ensuring fairness. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, while the Fifth and Sixth Amendments guarantee rights that are fundamental to a fair trial, such as the right to due process and the right to a speedy and public trial. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, affirming that punishment must be proportional and humane.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, is another cornerstone in the pursuit of justice. The amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibits states from denying any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This provision has been instrumental in combating discrimination and ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their race or other innate attributes, are treated equally in the eyes of the law. Landmark Supreme Court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education have utilized the Equal Protection Clause to deliver justice to marginalized groups.
The Constitution establishes the judiciary as an independent branch of government, playing a vital role in upholding justice. Article III vests the judicial power in the Supreme Court and other federal courts as Congress may establish. The courts interpret the Constitution and have the power to strike down laws that are unconstitutional, ensuring that the principles of justice are upheld against potential abuses of power.
Lastly, the Constitution itself provides for amendments to adapt to changing societal norms and understandings of justice. The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, are examples of how the Constitution can evolve to better realize the promise of “justice for all.”
“Due Process” as the Embodiment of “Justice for All”
The concept of due process and the ideal of “justice for all” are two fundamental principles that underpin the legal systems of free and just societies. At the core of these principles is the commitment to protecting individual rights and ensuring fair treatment for all citizens under the law. Both concepts are deeply intertwined, serving as the backbone of a just and impartial society.
Due process, a concept firmly rooted in the legal framework, is a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government. It’s a constitutional guarantee that all legal proceedings will be fair and that no person will be deprived of their rights without a fair procedure. The essence of due process is the right to notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard and defend one’s rights.
The commitment to due process is directly linked to the promise of “justice for all.” It establishes a level playing field in the court system, ensuring that no one is unduly favored or unfairly disadvantaged. This adherence to process and fairness guarantees that every citizen, irrespective of their social, economic, or political standing, has an equal opportunity to present their case and seek justice.
Through due process, the law is applied uniformly, emphasizing the principle that all are equal before the law. This means that every person, regardless of their status, is subject to the same laws and legal proceedings as anyone else, reinforcing the concept of “justice for all.” It embodies the idea that justice should not be the privilege of the few, but the right of all.
Due process is a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. It prevents individuals from being unjustly targeted or punished without substantial evidence and a fair trial. By doing so, it reinforces the ideal of “justice for all,” ensuring that no person is unjustly deprived of their rights or freedoms.
Due process promotes transparency and accountability in the legal system. It requires that legal proceedings be carried out in a fair, open, and consistent manner, which enhances public trust in the system. This transparency ensures that justice is not only done but seen to be done, thus promoting the ideal of “justice for all.”
Due process is intrinsic to the concept of “justice for all.” It guarantees fair treatment, equality before the law, protection against arbitrary power, and promotes transparency and accountability. Without due process, the promise of “justice for all” would be an empty rhetoric. As such, any society committed to justice must also be committed to upholding and enforcing due process.
“Justice for All” and the Supreme Court
While the phrase “justice for all” is not found in the body of the Constitution, the preamble to the Constitution does present a mandate that the Federal Government will “establish justice.” The Supreme Court has often been tasked with interpreting what “establishing justice” means in various contexts and how it should be applied in practice. Most scholars look at four seminal cases in which the Supreme Court has interpreted and applied this mandate: Marbury v. Madison, Wesberry v. Sanders, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Brown v. Board of Education.
First, Marbury v. Madison (1803) was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Marshall, affirmed its power of judicial review, the power to declare laws unconstitutional. It was a case where the interpretation of “establish Justice” was at the core. The Court held that it was the very essence of justice to ensure that government acts within the limits of the law, and when it doesn’t, there needs to be a mechanism to check and correct it. Judicial review was therefore seen as an essential instrument of justice, ensuring that the laws themselves and the actions of government are just, fair, and align with the Constitution.
Second, Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) centered on the principle of “one person, one vote,” an essential aspect of democratic justice. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that electoral districts must be roughly equal in population, ensuring that all citizens’ votes carry equal weight. This interpretation of “establish Justice” reflected the belief that justice in a democratic society requires political equality, where each citizen’s voice matters equally in the public decision-making process.
Third, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) is a historic case that unfortunately reflects a period when the Supreme Court fell short in its mandate to “establish Justice.” The Court upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This decision was a significant deviation from the ideal of justice as it endorsed racial discrimination and inequality, contradicting the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Lastly, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court rectified its previous stance from Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court unanimously ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, stating that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” This case epitomizes the Supreme Court’s role in establishing justice, as it actively sought to dismantle institutionalized racism or uphold the principles of equality and protect the rights of marginalized communities.
“Justice for all” runs as a vein throughout the Constitution—starting with the preamble’s charge that “We the people” will use the Constitution to “establish justice” and then running through the principles embodied therein. Much of this charge is carried out by the Due Process clauses in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and it has been left to the Supreme Court throughout U.S. history to further ensure that this commission from the Founders to ensure that there is “justice for all” is carried out.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty, as well as Chairman and Founder of the Institute for Regulatory Analysis and Engagement. IFL is a non-profit advocacy organization focused on advancing free-market and limited government principles into public policy at all levels. IRAE is a non-profit academic and activist organization whose mission is to examine regulations and regulatory proposals, assess their economic and societal impacts, and offer expert commentary in order to create better public policies. Andrew has been involved in free-market and limited-government causes for more than 25 years, has testified before Congress nearly two dozen times, spoken to audiences across the United States, and has taught at the collegiate level.
A globally-recognized expert on the impact of regulation on business, Andrew is regularly called on to offer innovative solutions to the challenges of squaring public policy priorities with the impact and efficacy of those policies, as well as their unintended consequences. Prior to becoming President of IFL and founding IRAE, he was the principal regulatory affairs lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small business association. As President of the Institute for Liberty, he became recognized as an expert on the Constitution, especially issues surrounding private property rights, free speech, abuse of power, and the concentration of power in the federal executive branch.
Andrew has had an extensive career in media—having appeared on television programs around the world. From 2017 to 2021, he hosted a highly-rated weekly program on WBAL NewsRadio 1090 in Baltimore (as well as serving as their principal fill-in host from 2011 until 2021), and has filled in for both nationally-syndicated and satellite radio programs. He also created and hosted several different podcasts—currently hosting Andrew and Jerry Save The World, with long-time colleague, Jerry Rogers.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Troy University and his degree from William & Mary is in International Relations.