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Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms—a book by Professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis ’66


As part of the Yale Law Library Series in Legal History, Yale University Press has recently published Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms by Yale Law School Professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis ’66. The central question of Curtis and Resnik's book is the relationship between courts and democracy. The authors explore the evolution of adjudication into its modern form by mapping the remarkable run of the political icon of Justice and by tracing the development of public spaces dedicated to justice: courthouses.

Resnik and Curtis analyze how Renaissance “rites” of judgment turned into democratic “rights,” requiring governments to protect judicial independence and to provide open and public hearings. Courts developed, alongside the press and the postal services, as mechanisms for building the public sphere and for calling government to account. During the twentieth century, all persons gained access to and rights of fair treatment in courts – which can be seen not only through legal provisions but also by looking at the building of national, regional, and international courthouses around the world.

With more than 220 images, readers can see both the longevity of aspirations for the Virtue Justice and the invention of courts. Reproductions span the centuries from the scales of the Egyptian Maat through St. Michael’s scales and sword to contemporary courthouse architecture sometimes adorned with a Justice. The authors trace that iconographical lineage from Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Raphael, and Peter Paul Rubens to modern variations as well as the innovations of Ellsworth Kelly, Jenny Holzer, and Tom Otterness in the United States and of José Clemente Orozco and Rafael Cauduro in Mexico.

Today, however, private processes are replacing public ones, as public and private sectors promote settlement, devolve decision-making to agencies, and outsource judgments to arbitrators and mediators. Often clad in glass to mark justice’s transparency, new courthouse designs celebrate adjudication without reflecting on the problems of access, injustice, opacity, and the complexity of rendering impartial judgments. Thus, while venerable, courts are also vulnerable institutions that ought (like the post and the press) not be taken for granted. The argument is that the movement away from public adjudication is a problem for democracies because adjudication has important contributions to make to democracy.  

More images from and information about Representing Justice:

From Fool’s Blindfold to the Veil of Ignorance,” Yale Law Report, Winter 2011.

That Lady With the Scales Poses for Her Portraits,” by Randy Kennedy, The New York Times, December 15, 2010.