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Quotations about
Justice, Laws, & Crime

Law, made by mortal hands, is filled with frailties... ~Arthur Davison Ficke, The Breaking of Bonds: A Drama of the Social Unrest, 1910

An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain — the equality of all men. ~Ignazio Silone, The God That Failed, 1950

Besides, these Orators enflame the People, whose Anger is really but a short fit of Madness. Ira furor brevis est — Horat. After which, Laws are like Cobwebs, which may catch small Flies, but let Wasps and Hornets break through. ~Jonathan Swift, "A Tritical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind," 1707

The jury, passing on the prisoner's life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try.
~William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, c.1604  [II, 1, Angelo]

There are many things the law does not forbid, which nevertheless it silently condemns. ~Latin saying, quoted in James A. Ballentine, A Law Dictionary, 1916

Crime is simply a convenient monosyllable which we apply to what happens when the brain and the heart come into conflict and the brain is defeated. ~Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)

The trouble with the laws these days is that criminals know their rights better than their wrongs. ~Author unknown

It's strange that men should take up crime when there are so many legal ways to be dishonest. ~Author unknown

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers. ~H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916

Justice is open to everybody in the same way as the Ritz Hotel. ~Judge Sturgess, 1928, in The Observer, "Sayings of the Week," July 22nd, as quoted in W. Mansell, B. Meteyard, A. Thomson, A Critical Introduction to Law, 1995

JURY  Twelve men chosen to decide who has the better lawyer. ~Charles Wayland Towne, The Foolish Dictionary, Executed by Gideon Wurdz, Master of Pholly, Doctor of Loquacious Lunacy, etc., 1904

JUSTICE  Fair play; often sought, but seldom discovered, in company with Law. ~Charles Wayland Towne, The Foolish Dictionary, Executed by Gideon Wurdz, Master of Pholly, Doctor of Loquacious Lunacy, etc., 1904

Men sin and the law punishes; the law sins and the devil rewards. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897

Justices continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow. ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say: My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way; but the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope, that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow. ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2002  [a little altered —tg]

With us, Law is nothing unless close behind it stands a warm, living public opinion. ~Wendell Phillips, "Harper's Ferry," lecture, 1859

No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it... Obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favor. ~Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

An appeal, Hennessy, is where you ask one court to show its contempt for another court. ~Finley Peter Dunne, "The Big Fine," Mr. Dooley Says, 1910  ["An appeal, Hinnissy, is where ye ask wan coort to show it's contempt f'r another coort." —tg]

Men are too unstable to be just; they are crabbed because they have not passed water at the usual time, or testy because they have not been stroked or praised. The habits of animals can be ascertained better than the mien of a philosopher. ~Edward Dahlberg, The Sorrows of Priapus, 1957

You may legislate against human nature, but human nature will always get the best of legislation. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882

Rules and Laws, however Men shall make them,
Some will Keep them, some will always Break them.
~Arthur Guiterman, "Of Politics," A Poet's Proverbs, 1924

Justice may be blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices. ~Edgar Argo, in Funny Times, as quoted in The Reader's Digest, 1994

Punishment is now unfashionable. Why? Because it creates moral distinctions among men, which, to the democratic mind, are odious. We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility. ~Thomas Szasz (1920–2012)

No man who depends on special laws to make him prosperous was ever a patriot. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor

It takes 35 million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments. ~Author unknown, 1950s

Anytime any legislature meets, it makes a number of bad decisions... They pass well intended laws that are badly conceived. Proof exists in the fact that we have a million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments, and after each new law is passed, we need three new ones to take care of the unforeseen results. ~J.R. Peterson, "A Case for a Social Data Bank," 1969

We don't seem to be able to even check crime. Why not legalize it and put a heavy tax on it. Make the tax for robbery so high that a bandit couldn't afford to rob anyone unless he had a lot of dough. We have taxed other industries out of business, it might work here. ~Will Rogers (1879–1935),

One can only imagine how effective justice might be if admissible in a court of law. ~Robert Brault,

A rule that cannot be bent will certainly be broken. ~Robert Brault,

Although the legal and ethical definitions of right are the antithesis of each other, most writers use them as synonyms. They confuse power with goodness, and mistake law for justice. Ethical right is largely abstract; legal right is mostly concrete... Ethical right and legal right mutually exclude each other; where one prevails, the other cannot endure... One appeals to the sword to settle matters, the other appeals to the judgment of men. ~Charles T. Sprading, Liberty and the Great Libertarians, 1913

If the laws could speak for themselves, they would complain of the lawyers in the first place. ~George Savile, 1st marquess of Halifax (1633–1695)

Judges and lawyers — hair-splitting experts who preside and argue in court. ~Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000–1887, 1888  [a little altered —tg]

There were a couple of cops down there in front of the desk. Mr. Brownell was down there, too. He's a public persecutor, or whatever they call him. ~Percy Keese Fitzhugh, Roy Blakeley: Lost, Strayed or Stolen, 1921

Hunger makes a thief of any man. ~Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth, 1931

Though you are Sure, before you Chide
Be sure to hear the Other Side.
~Arthur Guiterman, "Of Justice," A Poet's Proverbs, 1924

Gentlemen, bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. ~Edmund Burke, 1780

Laws may not make a man good, but they may keep him from being bad. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor

Fully ninety-nine hundredths of the laws of that time concerned the definition and protection of private property and the relations of buyers and sellers... Formerly, society was a pyramid poised on its apex. All the gravitations of human nature were constantly tending to topple it over, and it could be maintained upright, or rather upwrong (if you will pardon the feeble witticism) by an elaborate system of constantly renewed props and buttresses and guy-ropes in the form of laws. A central Congress and forty state legislatures turning out some twenty thousand laws a year, could not make new props fast enough to take the place of those which were constantly breaking down or becoming ineffectual through some shifting of the strain. ~Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000–1887, 1888

A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works. ~Bill Vaughan, as quoted in The Reader's Digest, 1976

Corn can't expect justice from a court composed of chickens. ~African proverb

The more Laws, the more Offenders. ~Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, collected by Thomas Fuller, 1732

Once caught for a parking ticket, I pleaded insanity. ~Steven Wright, A Steven Wright Special, 1985,

I broke a mirror in my house and was supposed to get seven years bad luck but my lawyer thinks he can get me five. ~Steven Wright, A Steven Wright Special, 1985,

Men fight for freedom, then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves. ~Author unknown

If you don't get enough time-outs as a child, you get them as a grownup. ~Andrew Bonifacio

For only the man who has enough good in him to feel the justice of the penalty can be punished: the others can only be hurt, or with a finer realism regard themselves as temporary losers in a game which they may try again... To put it crudely, only the good man can be punished. ~William Ernest Hocking, The Coming World Civilization, 1956

Thieves for their robbery have authority
When judges steal themselves.
~William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, c.1604  [II, 2, Angelo]

It is the goal of the unjust not to defy the courts but to become the courts. ~Robert Brault,

He threatens many, who does injustice to one. ~Publilius Syrus, 1st century BCE, from the Latin by D. Lyman, 1856

Many things have been introduced into the common law which are contrary to logical reason, for the sake of the common welfare. ~Latin saying, quoted in James A. Ballentine, A Law Dictionary, 1916

As a matter of fact, some of the brightest brains and keenest minds belong to professional criminals. They live by their wits and must needs keep those wits sharp and active. Not that I would have you think that all professional criminals go about in the guise of gentlemen. There are all grades of culture and lack of culture in the various nefarious callings of crime. The sneak thief and the burglar may and often does look the "hard citizen" he is; but you will never find him lacking in a certain kind of quick wits and a certain kind of brain power. So highly organized is the machinery of the law and police protection in our modern civilization that one of the first requisites for success as a professional criminal is brains. ~Harry Houdini, Handcuff King and Jail Breaker, The Right Way To Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals, 1906

Every crime is born of necessity. If you want less crime, you must change the conditions. Poverty makes crime. Want, rags, crusts, failure, misfortune — all these awake the wild beast in man, and finally he takes, and takes contrary to law, and becomes a criminal. And what do you do with him? You punish him. Why not punish a man for having the consumption? The time will come when you will see that that is just as logical. What do you do with the criminal? You send him to the penitentiary. Is he made better? Worse. The first thing you do is to try to trample out his manhood, by putting an indignity upon him. You mark him. You put him in stripes... His feeling for revenge grows. You make a wild beast of him, and he comes out of that place branded in body and soul, and then you won't let him reform if he wants to. ~Robert G. Ingersoll, sermon, 1886

Now comes the big court scene... It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I guess that's why they called it a hearing. ~Percy Keese Fitzhugh, Roy Blakeley: Lost, Strayed or Stolen, 1921

As one reads history, not in the expurgated editions written for schoolboys and passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime. ~Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," 1891

Where there's a will there's a lawsuit. ~Charles Wayland Towne, The Foolish Dictionary, Executed by Gideon Wurdz, Master of Pholly, Doctor of Loquacious Lunacy, etc., 1904

An Irish counsel being questioned by a judge, to know "for whom he was concerned," replied as follows, "I am concerned, my Lord, for the plaintiff, but I am employed by the defendant." ~The Common-Place Book of Literary Curiosities, Remarkable Customs, Historical and Domestic Anecdotes, and Etymological Scraps, by The Rev. Dr. Dryasdust, of York, Somewhile Preface-Writer to the Great Unknown, 1825  [Dryasdust is Walter Scott —tg]

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural results of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart... Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? ~Henry David Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government," a.k.a. "Civil Disobedience," 1849

Th' Supreme Coort's decision, Hinnissy... read it... look it over some time. 'T is fine spoort if ye don't care f'r checkers. Some say it laves th' flag up in th' air an' some say that 's where it laves th' constitution. Annyhow, something 's in th' air. But there 's wan thing I 'm sure about... no matther whether th' constitution follows th' flag or not, th' supreme coort follows th' iliction returns. ~Finley Peter Dunne, "The Supreme Court's Decisions," Mr. Dooley's Opinions, 1901

The sun is but a little swinging ball;
      The hills are tiny, and the seas are small;
      The sky is not so lofty, after all.
But see! This man we're hanging—in him lies,
      No matter what the guilt for which he dies,
      A living soul, and who can guess its size?
~Mary Carolyn Davies, "Who Can Guess?", in Munsey's Magazine, July 1915

Legislative acts murder more men than the assassin. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897

Is justice bought and sold?—
In truth, Law is not sold:
Yet gold has power to set
Slow bars to justice; therefore
The law belongs to labor Masters.
~Arthur Davison Ficke, The Breaking of Bonds: A Drama of the Social Unrest, 1910  [a little altered —tg]

The whole function of Justice has become petrified and encrusted with the barnacles of antiquated tradition. ~Margaret Sanger, "Shall We Break This Law?" in The Birth Control Review, February 1917

The law to‑day is absolute and inexorable — it has even set itself above Justice, whose instrument it was intended to be. In earliest times, there was no elaborate code of law; there was but a simple idea of justice. As the race moved forward, its conception of justice kept pace with the changing standards of customs of the times. As society became more complex, a caste arose whose duty it was to administer justice. In the course of time, however, the law grew up out of their decisions and accumulated a stolid mass of outworn tradition, until to‑day legality has become so encumbered with lifeless relics of the past that the courts no longer express living social standards and the ideal of Justice, but merely the dead weight of legal precedents and obsolete decisions, hoary with age. ~Margaret Sanger, "Shall We Break This Law?" in The Birth Control Review, February 1917

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