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Doing Justice to Mercy

Religion, Law, and Criminal Justice

Edited by Jonathan Rothchild, Matthew Myer Boulton, and Kevin Jung

Publication Year: 2012

It is often assumed that the law and religion address different spheres of human life. Religion and ethics articulate complex systems of moral reasoning that concern norms, deliberation of ends, cultivation of disposition, and transformation of moral agency. Law, in contrast, seeks to govern human conduct through procedural justice, rights, and public good. Doing Justice to Mercy challenges this assumption by presenting the reader with an urgent conversation between the law and religion that yields a constructive approach, both theoretically and practically, to the complex role of mercy in our legal process.

Authored by legal practitioners, activists, and theorists in addition to theologians and ethicists, the essays collected here are informed by timeless principles, and yet they could not be timelier. The trend in sentencing moves toward an increased severity, and the number of incarcerated people in the United States is at an all-time high. In the half-decade since 9/11, moreover, homeland security has established itself as a permanent fixture in our lives. In this atmosphere, the current volume seeks initially to clarify how justice and mercy intertwine in relation to a number of issues, such as rehabilitation, the death penalty, domestic violence, and war crimes. Exploring the legal, philosophical, and theological grounds for mercy in our courts, the discussion then moves to the practical ways in which mercy may be implemented.

Contributors:Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project * Lois Gehr Livezey, McCormick Theological Seminary * Ernie Lewis, Public Advocate, Commonwealth of Kentucky * Jonathan Rothchild, Loyola Marymount University * Albert W. Alschuler, Northwestern University School of Law * David Scheffer, Northwestern University School of Law * David Little, Harvard Divinity School * Matthew Myer Boulton, Andover Newton Theological School * Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary * Sarah Coakley, Cambridge University * William Schweiker, University of Chicago Divinity School * Kevin Jung, College of William and Mary * Peter J. Paris, Princeton Theological Seminary * W. Clark Gilpin, University of Chicago Divinity School * William C. Placher, Wabash College

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This is a book about the relationship of mercy to justice in systems of criminal justice. The contributors are, in the main, scholars and professionals in the fields of law and religion, and one might make the facile assumption that the lawyers were assigned the topic of justice while the theologians took the concept of mercy under consideration. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Many hands have helped develop this book, along the way sharing their time, resources, and wisdom. Richard Rosengarten, Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, and W. Clark Gilpin, former director of the Martin Marty Center, the University of Chicago Divinity School, provided both institutional and personal support ...

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pp. 1-12

Breaches of law and the challenges of administering justice pervade and inform everyday human life. From domestic violence to corporate corruption, senseless hate crimes to the carnage of ethnic cleansing, a local homicide to an act of international terrorism—issues of crime and punishment deeply touch the lives of victims, offenders, and the rest of society. ...

Part I: Case Studies in Justice and Mercy

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Race, Class, and the Development of Criminal Justice Policy

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pp. 15-32

The profound racial disparities that permeate the criminal justice system are by now distressingly prevalent and well documented. The unprecedented rise in the prison population over the past three decades—a six-fold increase, leading to the incarceration of more than 2 million Americans ...

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Complicity or Justice and Mercy? Sexual Violence Challenges, the Criminal Justice System, and the Churches

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pp. 33-49

As I was initially contemplating this chapter from my sabbatical vantage point in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cardinal Law of Boston first refused, then very reluctantly agreed, to authorize the reporting of the sexual abuse of children and youth by priests to legal authorities. Speaking out on this “crisis of the church,” he echoes the sensibilities of many church leaders ...

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Echoes of Grace: From the Prison to the State House

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pp. 50-62

I approach this essay on doing justice and mercy from two perspectives, that of a Christian who received an M.Div. degree from Vanderbilt some twenty-nine years ago, and that of a twenty-five-year state public defender. I am presently serving as the Kentucky Public Advocate, the chief administrator of a statewide public defender system, ...

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Recapturing the Good, Not Merely Measuring Harms: Rehabilitation, Restoration, and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

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pp. 63-91

As the essays in this book demonstrate, the current criminal justice system faces significant challenges: overcrowding, racial disparities, financial shortfalls, increases in juvenile inmates, and the collapse of families and communities of those incarcerated. These challenges impel critical reflections on the basic purposes of criminal punishment on both a theoretical and practical level. ...

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A Place for Mercy

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pp. 92-100

In some situations, justice requires mitigating a wrongdoer’s punishment. Mitigation is a moral duty. In other situations, justice forbids mitigation. Any mitigation is improper. If these situations exhaust the field, mercy is an impossible virtue.1 Mercy must be an act of grace, not duty. ...

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Why International Law Matters in God’s World

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pp. 101-116

One of Isaiah’s prophecies against Judah intones, “Mankind will be brought low, everyone will be humbled” (Isa. 2:9). That prophecy bore truth in our lifetimes, on our watch. If you have difficulty imagining the reality of the Devil, or if you do not believe in the Devil, or of evil forces that undeniably exist, then take a walk with me. ...

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Critical Response to David Scheffer

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pp. 117-126

First, he calls attention to experiments like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which are efforts to find “nonjudicial” means, as Scheffer refers to them, for handling crimes related to societies with an authoritarian past. Incidentally, of the various arguments usually given in support of such arrangements, ...

Part II: Approaches to Justice and Mercy

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Samaritan Justice: A Theology of “Mercy” and “Neighborhood”

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pp. 129-144

In the United States today, perhaps the consummate “outsiders” are the ones, as we say, “on the inside.” The people in many respects most peripheral in American social and political life are those who live incarcerated in prisons and jails, at once outcast to the public perimeter and corralled together in “correctional centers.” ...

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The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counterterror

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pp. 145-173

Since writing about systems of criminal justice and injustice in The Executed God, one of that volume’s major notions, organized terror, has become more pertinent than I could have anticipated at that time. The book argued that U.S. practices of policing, imprisonment, and the death penalty form a system that disseminates terror among poor communities, ...

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Critical Response to Mark Lewis Taylor

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pp. 174-180

Mark Taylor writes a very powerful and passionate essay, in which he has gone significantly beyond the central themes of his recent book The Executed God1 by bringing the notion of “organized terror” in the American prison system into relation now to other forms of (so-called) “imperial” terror and reactions thereto. ...

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Criminal Justice and Responsible Mercy

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pp. 181-205

The American public is increasingly aware of problems in the United States criminal justice system as well as the massive social ills—poverty, racism, abuse—that motivate and yet are concealed by the system. More and more individuals, especially young men from ethnic and racial minorities, populate the prison system. ...

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Fallibility and Fragility: A Reflection on Justice and Mercy

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pp. 206-221

Niccolò Machiavelli writes: “[O]ne can say this generally of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager for gain.”1To deal with this kind of human nature, he argues that a political ruler needs to know how to use force as well as laws, all according to necessity. ...

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Justice and Mercy: The Relation of Societal Norms and Empathic Feeling

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pp. 222-230

The moral relationship between justice and mercy is analogous to the relationship between a morally good state and a morally good person. That is to say, justice is prior to mercy in the realm of practice. A morally good state is determined by morally good laws, which in turn provide the necessary conditions for the moral development of its citizens ...

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Criminal Justice and the Law of Love: Reflections on the Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr

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pp. 231-244

In a penetrating inquiry into the history of modern prison reform, the late Norval Morris, a legal scholar at the University of Chicago, asked us to confront the question of why prison conditions merit a society’s most serious consideration. ...

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Critical Response to W. Clark Gilpin

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pp. 245-250

We live in a country gone mad on sending people to prison. Consider some statistics. From the early twentieth century until the mid-1970s, the United States imprisoned about 110 people for every 100,000 of population. By the mid-1990s, the figure had risen to about 600 per 100,000. ...

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pp. 251-260

This volume has offered a feast of ideas and concerns about some of the most pressing issues our society now faces. It has given us a glimpse of the human face of suffering and the longing for justice and mercy in a harsh and violent world. The different perspectives have addressed many facets of justice and mercy in the criminal justice system. ...


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pp. 261-272

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Notes on Contributors

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pp. 273-276

Albert W. Alschuler is Professor of Law at Northwestern University and Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He has been a law clerk to Justice Walter V. Schaefer of the Illinois Supreme Court, ...


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pp. 277-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934228
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813926421

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2012