Continuing with our look at architectural spaces as constructs of the human imagination, a new book, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms, by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, gives special insight into the ways in which Justice has publicly appeared and influenced our own democratic ideologies.
Buildings are one way to tell the story. The rise of courthouses tracks the rise of rights and the transformation of courts as democratic institutions – insistent on the equality of all, but as the authors argue, democracy did not only change courts, it also challenges them. Resnik and Curtis analyze how Renaissance “rites” of judgment turned into democratic “rights,” requiring governments to respect judicial independence, provide open and public hearings, and accord access and dignity to “every person.” Courts developed, alongside the press and the postal services, as mechanisms for building the public sphere and for calling the government to account.
Today, however, private processes are replacing public ones, as public and private sectors promote settlement, devolve decision making to agencies, and outsource judgments to arbitrators and mediators. Often clad in glass to mark justice’s transparency, new courthouse designs celebrate adjudication without reflecting on the problems of access, injustice, opacity, and the complexity of rendering impartial judgments. What Resnik and Curtis insist is that the movement away from public adjudication is a problem for democracies because adjudication has important contributions to make to democracy.
Listen to Judith Resnik on The Takeaway to hear about the current shortage of federal judges and what that means for judicial administration.