One of my hobbies as a writer is making official notices, signs, and messages more succinct. I can’t see a sign without trying to edit it for length and clarity in my mind. It’s an occupational hazard of writers.
And maybe it’s a lawyer thing, too.
I remember one afternoon during the time when I was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Usually, I ate in the clerks’ dining room in the Supreme Court building itself, but on this particular day some fellow law clerks and I had gone out to a restaurant for lunch, to celebrate a birthday.
On our return, we were walking up to the Supreme Court building. It’s a beautiful, monumental building, and we all paused a moment to look at it.
I looked at the inscription that appears in enormous letters across the front of the building, and read it out loud: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
One of my co-clerks said, “Huh. That’s redundant. It doesn’t need to say all that.”
“Why?” I said.
“It could just say ‘Justice.’ Justice means, equal justice under law.”
But for once, I think I prefer the wordier version. “Equal justice under law.”
It’s one of the great dreams of the United States, and I get the America feeling every time I see that building, or even a picture of it. We don’t always have equal justice under law. That inscription declares one of our country’s most essential aims, and it’s a reminder that we must all work to protect and further justice.