Quotations about   justice

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There is no accepted test of civilization. It is not wealth, or the degree of comfort, or the average duration of life, or the increase of knowledge. All such tests would be disputed. In default of any other measure, may it not be suggested that as good a measure as any is the degree to which justice is carried out, the degree to which men are sensitive as to wrong-doing and desirous to right it? If that be the test, a trial such as that of Servetus is a trial of the people among whom it takes place, and his condemnation is theirs also.

John Macdonell (1846-1921) British jurist
Historical Trials, ch. 7 (1927)
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John Calvin ordered Michael Servetus be imprisoned for heresy in Geneva; he was tried, then burned at the stake in 1553.
Added on 15-Jun-20 | Last updated 15-Jun-20
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Ill doers in the end shall ill receive.

[Chi mal opra, male al fine aspetta.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 37, st. 106, l. 6 (1532) [tr. Rose (1831)]
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Added on 4-May-20 | Last updated 4-May-20
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That city [is best to live in,] in which those who are not wronged, no less than those who are wronged, exert themselves to punish the wrongdoers.

Solon (c. 638 BC - 558 BC) Athenian statesman, lawmaker, poet
Quoted in Plutarch, Parallel Lives, “The Life of Solon,” sec. 18.5 [tr. Perrin (1914)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "That [city is best managed] in which those who are not wronged espouse the cause of those who are, and punish their oppressors." [tr. Stewart, Long (1894)]
  • "That [city is best modeled] where those that are not injured try and punish the unjust as much as those that are." [Source]
  • "That [city is best modeled] where those who are not injured, are as ready to prosecute and punish offenders, as those who are." [tr. Langhorne, Langhorne (1819)]
  • "The city [is best governed of all] where those who have not been wronged show themselves just as ready to punish the offender as thouse who have been." [tr. Scott-Kilvert (1960)]
  • Paraphrased as "Justice can be secured in Athens if those who are not injured feel as indignant as those who are," in Earl Warren, "The Law and the Future," Fortune (Nov 1955).
Added on 22-Apr-20 | Last updated 22-Apr-20
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Justice is indiscriminately due to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
Georgia v. Brailsford, 3 US 1 (1794) [unanimous opinion]
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Added on 21-Apr-20 | Last updated 21-Apr-20
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We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Birth of a New Age,” speech, Alpha Phi Alpha banquet, Buffalo (11 Aug 1956)
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King used the same phrases, or variations of them, for different speeches and sermons, e.g., in "Desegregation and the Future" (15 Dec 1956), he used "Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity."
Added on 24-Feb-20 | Last updated 24-Feb-20
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Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Psalm 82:3 [KJV]
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  • [GNT] "Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless."
  • [NRSV] "Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute."
Added on 10-Feb-20 | Last updated 10-Feb-20
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For your reputation, for your religion, for your safety, for every advantage you have, do not acquit this man — no, exact vengeance upon him to make him an example to everyone, to our citizens and to the rest of the world.

[οὔτε γὰρ πρὸς δόξαν οὔτε πρὸς εὐσέβειαν οὔτε πρὸς ἀσφάλειαν οὔτε πρὸς ἄλλ᾿ οὐδὲν ὑμῖν συμφέρει τοῦτον ἀφεῖναι, ἀλλὰ τιμωρησαμένους παράδειγμα ποιῆσαι πᾶσι, καὶ τοῖς πολίταις καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις Ἕλλησιν.]

Demosthenes (384-322 BC) Greek orator and statesman
Oration 19, “On the False Embassy,” sec. 343 (Conclusion)
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Also known as "On the False Legation". Alt. trans.: "For the sake of your honor, of your religion, of your security, of everything you value, you must not acquit this man. Visit him with exemplary punishment, and let his fate be a warning not to our own citizens alone but to every man who lives in the Hellenic world." [tr. Vince, Vince (1926)]
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Things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just; and by knaves as well as by martyrs the just cause is carried forward. Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Representative Men, Lecture 4 “Montaigne; or, The Skeptic” (1850)
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Added on 28-Oct-19 | Last updated 28-Oct-19
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Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Jeremiah 22:3 [NRSV]
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Alt. trans.: "Thus saith the Lord; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place." [KJV]

Alt. trans.: "I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not mistreat or oppress aliens, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place." [GNT]
Added on 27-May-19 | Last updated 27-May-19
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Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Proverbs 31:8-9 [NRSV]
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  • KJV: "Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."
  • GNT: "Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy."
Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Importance of Being Earnest, act 2 (Miss Prism) [1895]
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Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person (usually noble in some manner) but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 3 “The Work,” “Plot” (1989)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967)
Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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A just man is not one who does no ill,
But he, who with the power, has not the will.

Philemon (c. 362 BC – c. 262 BC) Athenian poet and playwright
Sententiæ, II

Attributed in John Booth, Epigrams, Ancient and Modern (1863). .
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Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom, “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (1958)
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To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice.

[Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differimus rectum aut justiciam.]

Other Authors and Sources
Magna Carta, Clause 40 (1215)

Alt. trans.:
  • "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."
  • "To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice."
Added on 7-Jul-17 | Last updated 7-Jul-17
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KARMA’S A BITCH. No, let me rephrase that: Karma is your vengeful bunny-boiler ex, lurking in your darkened front hallway wearing an ice-hockey mask and carrying a baseball bat inscribed with BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Rhesus Chart (2014)
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No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, no will we send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

Other Authors and Sources
Magna Carta, Clause 39 (1215)
Added on 21-Apr-17 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is an ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.

Harper Lee (b. 1926) American writer [Nellie Harper Lee]
To Kill a Mockingbird, ch. 20 (1960)
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 31-Mar-17
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But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal — there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be in the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

Harper Lee (b. 1926) American writer [Nellie Harper Lee]
To Kill a Mockingbird, ch. 20 (1960)
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The law, in all vicissitudes of government … will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations, and wanton tempers of men. … On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamours of the populace.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials” (4 Dec 1770)
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And from your policy do not wholly banish fear,
For what man living, freed from fear, will still be just?

aeschylus-freed-from-fear-will-still-be-just-wist_info-quote

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
The Eumenides
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I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.

jones-stolen-a-railroad-wist_info-quote

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1860-1930) American labor leader [a.k.a. Mother Jones]
Speech (1903), in The Autobiography of Mother Jones, ch. 10 (1925)
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We know the redemption must come. The time and the manner of its coming we know not: It may come in peace, or it may come in blood; but whether in peace or in blood, LET IT COME.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech to “The colored people of Pittsburge, Pennsylvania” (1843)

Representative Dellet of Alabama quoted the speech before the House of Representatives, then asked Adams, "though it cost the blood of thousands of white men?" Adams responded, "Though it cost the blood of millions of white men, let it come. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."
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The law no passion can disturb. ‘Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis mens sine affectu, written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials” (4 Dec 1770)
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“It’s not fair,” Cloud said eventually. “It’s not fair you have to mourn this child.”

Jared gave a small laugh. “We’re in the wrong universe for fair,” he said, simply.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The Ghost Brigades (2006)
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Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Tweet (12 Oct 2013)
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One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom — not only for political independence, but for personal liberty — not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American poltician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Signing the Civil Rights Act (2 Jul 1964)
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In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“I Have a Dream,” speech, Washington, DC (28 Aug 1963)
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Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter accepting the nomination for President (12 Jul 1880)
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The men who convey, and those who listen to calumnies, should, if I could have my way, all hang, the tale-bearers by their tongues, the listeners by their ears.

Plautus (b. c. 254 BC) Roman playright [Titus Macchius Plautus]
Pseudolus, 1.5
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It would repel me less to be a hangman than a soldier, because the one is obliged to put to death only criminals sentenced by the law, but the other kills honest men who like himself bathe in innocent blood at the bidding of some superior.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Persons and Places, entry, c. 1880 (1944)
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To execute a murderer is simply to adopt his point of view.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
Pieces of Eight (1982)
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The peace we seek and need means much more than mere absence of war. It means the acceptance of law, and the fostering of justice, in all the world.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“Developments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East,” Broadcast Speech (31 Oct 1956)
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If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth.

Muhammad (570-632) Arabian merchant, prophet, founder of Islam [Mohammed]
Qur’an, 35.45 (AD 670?) [tr. Pickthall (1953)]
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The common interests
of states and individuals alike demand
that good and evil receive their just rewards.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Hecuba, l. 900 [tr. Arrowsmith (1964)]
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HAMLET: Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?

Shakespeare - whipping - wist_info

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 554 (1600)
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The dead don’t need justice. That’s for those of us who are left looking down at the remains.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Skin Game (2014)
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The precepts of the law are these: to live honestly, to injure no one, and to give everyone his due.

Justinian I (c. 482-565) Byzantine emperor [Justinian the Great]
Code of Justinian (533)
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You must remember that some things that are legally right are not morally right.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
(Attributed)

Remark to potential client (1840s?), refusing his case involving a $600 claim against a widow with six children. In F. Brown, The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, 2.6 (1887).
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No law is stronger than is the public sentiment where it is to be enforced.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to John J. Crittenden (22 Dec 1859)
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The great can protect themselves, but the poor and humble require the arm and shield of the law.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) American politician, general, US President (1829-1837)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (26 Aug 1821)
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Law and Justice play no role in the relations of peoples of unequal strength.

Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) German psychologist
Aphorisms of Present Times, 2.6 (1913)
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Unkindness has no Remedy at Law.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #5402 (1732)
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Honest Men often go to Law for their Right; when Wise Men would sit down with the Wrong, supposing the first Loss least. In some Countries the Course of the Courts is so tedious, and the Expence so high, that the Remedy, Justice, is worse than, Injustice, the Disease. In my Travels I once saw a Sign call’d The Two Men at Law; One of them was painted on one Side, in a melancholy Posture, all in Rags, with this Scroll, I have lost my Cause. The other was drawn capering for Joy, on the other Side, with these Words, I have gain’d my Suit; but he was stark naked.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (1742)
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Delay works always for the man with the longest purse.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930) US President (1909-13) and Chief Justice (1921-1930)
“Adequate Machinery for Judicial Business,” Journal of the American Bar Association (Sep 1921)
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Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to James C. Conkling (26 Aug 1863)
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Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (15 Oct 1947)
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One of the oldest Russian proverbs remains as inexorably true in modern America: “No one is hanged who has money in his pocket.” Or, one might say, capital punishment is only for those without capital.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
Syndicated column, Chicago Daily News (Apr 1971)
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To spare the guilty is to injure the innocent.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 113 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
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Wherever a Knave is not punished, an honest Man is laugh’d at.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Of Punishment,” Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (1750)
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ZOE: I know something ain’t right.

WASH: Sweetie, we’re crooks. If everything were right, we’d be in jail.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
Firefly, 1×01 “Serenity” (pilot) (20 Dec 2002)
Added on 19-Feb-15 | Last updated 19-Feb-15
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I hear much of People’s calling out to punish the Guilty, but very few are concern’d to clear the Innocent.

Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) English journalist and novelist
An Appeal to Honour and Justice, Tho’ it be of His Worse Enemies (1715)
Added on 17-Feb-15 | Last updated 17-Feb-15
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That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright
“Justice” (1923)
Added on 16-Dec-14 | Last updated 16-Dec-14
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The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Rebel (1951)
Added on 8-Dec-14 | Last updated 8-Dec-14
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