Monday, April 07, 2014

Courthouse as Cathedral

While in Texas over spring break, we visited the Texas Museum of History in Austin.  On the wall there was a picture of a courthouse being built in some small town.  It was magnificent, and I was reminded of nothing so much as the construction of the great cathedrals in Europe like Chartres, built over many decades to exult God.  And it took me back to some of the stunning courthouses around here, the Caswell County Courthouse in Yanceyville, or the Alamance County Courthouse in Graham.

Each is grander than anything that surrounds it by a factor of 5.  Does this tendency to build grand courthouse reflect an elevation of the principle of the Rule of Law in America to a position similar to that of the God's Law in medieval society?

Like all questions, it's pretty complex.  Let's look at Texas, for example.  On the one hand, you've got a society that projects an image of the wild wild west, each man a law unto himself.  But you go out on the highways, at least around Austin, San Antonio, the hill country, and nobody was speeding.  If the speed limit was 65, traffic was going 65.  If 70, 70.  My host Justin said that wasn't true in other parts of Texas.

Then again, this is the part of the country where sherriffs have taken it upon themselves to become arbiters of constitutionality in recent years, refusing to enforce laws that seem to them wrong.

My mind also races back to the story I was reading about Anadarko and its $5.2 billion settlement to remediate something like 2700 waste sites from the last 50 years or so.

Maybe it's the myth of the rule of law that is sacred.

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