When “Social Justice” Becomes the Enemy of Actual Justice—California’s Destructive “Racial Justice Act”

When “Social Justice” Becomes the Enemy of Actual Justice—California’s Destructive “Racial Justice Act”
When “Social Justice” Becomes the Enemy of Actual Justice—California’s Destructive “Racial Justice Act”

California’s “Racial Justice Act” threatens to turn the very idea of justice on its head.

The Act is a product of the overheated summer of 2020, an indirect result of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis the previous May.


When he signed the Act, Governor Gavin Newsome’s celebratory press release contained a quotation from the Act’s sponsor, Assemblymember Ash Kaira.

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“Although there is still much more work to do in fixing our broken criminal justice system, the Racial Justice Act is an historic foundational step in upholding Constitutional protections for everyone and moving us closer to a system that truly reflects justice for all. The Racial Justice Act puts into law a manifestation of a continuing struggle most recently represented by millions in the streets demanding racial justice.”

The press release concluded with the Governor patting himself on the back.

“Today’s actions build on the Newsom Administration’s work to acknowledge historic wrongs and combat structural racism and bias in our institutions.”

Empty Words that Conceal Danger

Like many such laws, the concise description sounds harmless.

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AB 2542 will prohibit the use of race, ethnicity or national origin to seek or obtain convictions or impose sentences.”

The actual consequences could well cause multiple travesties of justice and needlessly endanger millions of Californians of all races.

Defining Justice

Justice has several definitions. One definition from Merriam-Webster is simple: “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.”

Perhaps a more useful definition comes from The Catholic Encyclopedia (published 1907-1912). “Justice teaches us to give to another what belongs to him.”

The Encyclopedia expands on this simple idea.

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“Justice requires that all should have what belongs to them, and so the just man will render to the society, or State, of which he is a member, what is due to it. The justice which prescribes this is called legal justice. On the other hand, the individual subject has claims against the State. It is the function of the State to protect its subjects in their rights and to govern the whole body for the common good. Authority for this purpose is given to the State by nature and by God, the Author of man’s social nature.”

Individuals owe three things to the state. The first and most basic is loyalty. The second is contributing to the government’s necessary expenses—usually through taxes. The third and most complex duty is obedience to legitimate laws that the government enacts.

In return, the government owes only one thing to the people—protection. That is the most fundamental reason for having and maintaining the state.

Finding a Reason to Let the Guilty Go Free

California’s Racial Justice Act is illegitimate because it abridges any government’s most basic obligation to its citizens. It not only exposes the people to lawlessness, it actually encourages the criminals.

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In The Wall Street Journal, contributor Heather MacDonald described one example of the new law’s effect.

In Contra Costa County, just north of San Francisco, a horrible miscarriage of justice took place when a local judge found that four gang members had been improperly sentenced. They had been convicted of murders that arose out of “a bloody feud between two Oakland gangs.” There was no problem with the trials. The trial judge had protected all of the “due process” rights of the four men. A competent attorney had represented them. The jury was properly selected and came to the required unanimous verdict. The sentence—life imprisonment without parole—was justified by the circumstances of the crime and everyday practice under California law.

The problem was “an alleged historical pattern.” Apparently, the court found that black defendants were more likely than white defendants to be charged with being members of organized gangs. The decision was based upon the experiences of thirty other defendants who had also been convicted of similar gang murders. All thirty were black; none were white. Therefore, the statistics indicated that these sentences violated the Racial Justice Act. Not only can the four gang members in the original case have their sentences set aside, but so can the other thirty, meaning that all of them have a greater chance of release than before.

In other words, all the defendants of one race have to do is produce statistics showing their crimes are disproportionally committed by their race. The result is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Patterns That Are All Too Real

However, the “disparities” that the leftists complain about have legitimate bases. The Journal article extracts some very important statistics.

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“In Los Angeles, blacks are 21 times as likely as whites to commit a violent crime, 36 times as likely to commit a robbery, and 57 times as likely to commit a homicide, according to police department data.”

The article also includes a far more critical set of statistics, those that pertain to victims.

“Blacks in Los Angeles are 17 times as likely to be homicide victims as whites; statewide, the disparity is 13 times.”

That number of victims will likely increase if the parole boards ever release the thirty-four men to whom Heather MacDonald referred.

This side of the situation is too often ignored. While the state parades its concern for the plight of minority group members who are accused of crime, it denies any responsibility for crime victims. It is undeniable that higher levels of crime happen in certain definable areas in many cities. If the majority of the population of such regions is made up of one particular ethnic group, the criminals and their victims will be of that same group. Finding excuses for the criminals creates dangerous situations that make the victims’ lives ever more perilous.

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Blaming crime on society and then excusing criminals, as the “social justice” leftists are wont to do, turns the justice system on its head. It improves the lives of the guilty while exposing the innocent to greater danger. This is not justice; it is misplaced compassion masquerading as justice.

The Catholic Concept of Justice

There is nothing new about crime or criminals. Sin is the common heritage of all humanity. The patterns of criminality in modern America are only the most recent expressions of fallen man. Returning briefly to The Catholic Encyclopedia reveals a bold assertion about the Church’s unique authority in this area.

“The Catholic doctrine of justice will be found one of the main safeguards of order, peace, and progress. With even balance it equally favors all and presses unduly on none. It gives the State ample authority for the attainment of its legitimate end, while it effectually bars the road to tyranny and violence.”

California’s so-called Racial Justice Act falls far short on all of these counts. It hinders order, peace and progress. It favors some, chosen only by race or ethnicity, over others. It presses unduly on victims of crime by opening them to the tyranny and violence of gang warfare. It, and the spirit behind it, must be rejected.

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