S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The rule of law inspires young judge

Today there is a great story by Jim Yardley in the NYT about a young judge who has a deep respect for the law. Judge Li Huijuan, age 32, acted out of that belief in the rule of law with a legal decision that was very risky for her career, but significant for the history of her native land.

The twist to this story is that Judge Li lives and works in China. Yardley summarized her dilemma,

Faced with a conflict between national and provincial law, Judge Li had declared the provincial law invalid. In doing so, she unwittingly made legal history, setting in motion a national debate about judicial independence in China's closed political system.

This young jurist's experience resonates half way round the world - Friedman's flat world - because it has so many universally human elements:

  • A daughter had the example of a father who had deep personal integrity in the way he lived his own life.
  • As she grew up, she first had role models in TV drama, and later inspirational teachers and professors, who taught her to love the rule of law.
  • The young judge was in a "commuter marriage" with a man who supported her ability to make the right decision when she needed it.
  • Like Rosa Parks, this young idealistic woman inspired leaders older than herself to rally to her side when she took the risky but correct stance. She also instinctively knew when to practice quiet passive resistance.
  • Like women in their 30's around the world, she took maternity leave recently and then went back to school to further her legal education.

The irony of this story is that there has not been radical change in the current Chinese legal system. But here are hopeful signs. Judge Li did not lose her job. And judges now get a different kind of "required continuing education." The story continues:

On the campus of the National Judges College on the outskirts of Beijing, the primary educational arm of the People's Supreme Court, roughly 10,000 judges spend a month of every year on professional training. In the past, judges were taught to serve the interests of the Communist Party, but now a different message is emphasized.
"We train them with a modern theory of law: that the courts are impartial, on the need for legal justice and of innocence until proven guilty," said Huai Xiaofeng, president of the college. "We stress that
during a trial, you cannot favor the government or the National People's Congress. In the past, they told them to emphasize the political qualities. "Now, we tell them to emphasize the law and the facts."

But the system remained largely intact, the story concludes:

In summer 2004, the Standing Committee announced the creation of a new review panel to mediate conflicts of law. Some lawyers have hailed the panel as the equivalent of a constitutional court. Others are concerned about the panel's secrecy and believe the responsibility should belong to the courts.
Judge Li still believes in the rule of law, but she is no longer the impressionable teenager who watched soap operas about judges. "Judges are confused," she said. "It is not that they do not know how to do cases professionally. It is just all these relationships to coordinate. And they also have to weigh consequences."
In 2004, Henan's High Court reheard the seed case. It ruled exactly as Judge Li had, with one exception: it criticized her for invalidating the provincial law.

In the United States is where Marbury vs. Madison happened. That U. S. landmark case was cited by a Chinese legal scholar in an op ed piece supporting Judge Li during her challenge of the Chinese court system. It fundamentally changed the direction of our own court system, affirming that the good of the larger whole must take precedence when it conflicts with the purely local. China has a start now.

This story reminds me of why I have such reverence for our own rule of law. It is why I feel so disturbed when anyone in the current administration takes an expedient, fudging, wink and look the other way legal stance. And it also why it is good that Congress is increasingly saying "no" to the administration. With a few welcome legislative initiatives, such as those having to do with detainee rights, leaders are finally standing on the right side of the rule of law.

References to previous posts:

  1. The rule of law makes the front page
  2. Recovery of the "Dissatisfieds"

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