Monday, September 26, 2011

Justice as a Sign of the Law

[Here, courtesy of the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog, is word of a new exhibit.  Five items are now viewable on-line.  This link will bring up all the posted installments at any given moment.]

How is it that the figure of a woman, draped, holding scales and sword, has been so widely recognized as a symbol of the law for more than 500 years?

This question is at the heart of the latest exhibit from the Yale Law Library's Rare Book Collection: "The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law."  Using images from books printed between 1497 and 1788, the exhibit traces the roots of the iconography of Justice, a remnant of the Renaissance, that remains legible today. The exhibit features eleven volumes from the Law Library's Rare Book Collection, along with four emblem books on loan from Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The shifting attributes of Justice, displayed in the exhibit, reflect the complex relationships between judgment, sight, knowledge, and wisdom. In the 1400s and 1500s, a blindfold on Justice signified her disability; today the blindfold is commonly understood as a sign of justice's impartiality.

The exhibit is curated by Judith Resnik (Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School), Dennis Curtis (Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus, Yale Law School), Allison Tait (Gender Equity & Policy Postdoctoral Associate, Yale Women Faculty Forum), and Mike Widener (Rare Book Librarian). The exhibit draws heavily on Resnik's & Curtis' new book, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (Yale University Press, 2011).

The exhibit is on display through December 16, 2011 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. It is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily.

3 comments:

  1. When did the blindfold come about? What were the circumstances?

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  2. The role of the blindfold is examined in both the exhibit and in the book by Resnik & Curtis, REPRESENTING JUSTICE. It seems the blindfold's earliest connotations were negative.

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  3. Mike Widener's comment got me off my lazy behind and I followed the links at this post that provided answers to my questions, and more. Chapter 1 of "Representing Justice:" (available via the links) includes many figures of "Justice" and text about the blindfold. It also includes interesting political cartoons, one of which (in 1956) depicts CJ Earl Warren with a blindfold and a torn Constitution. I plan to pursue to see if this related specifically to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) or related decisions of the Warren Court. So in more recent years, the blindfold's connotations can be negative. However, it seems that Brown v. Board of Education has settled into constitutional acceptance over the past 50+ years.

    Thank you, Mike.

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