Posts tagged with: law

man-stealing-breadFive year ago, Roman Ostriakov, a homeless Ukrainian living in Italy, attempted to steal cheese and sausages worth $4.50 (€4.07). Before he could leave the supermarket, though, Ostriakov was caught and convicted of theft. He was ordered to pay a fine of $115 (€100) and spend six months in jail.

But Italy’s supreme court has overturned the conviction, writing:

The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the merchandise theft took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of need.

“For the judges, the right to survival has prevailed over the right to property,” says Massimo Gramellini, an editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa. He adds that in America this would be “blasphemy.”

Gramellini is partially right. While the court was right to show mercy to Ostriakov, they’ve essentially set of precedent for legalized theft. While it may seem compassionate for the judges to allow those in need to have access to other people’s property, the result is likely to lead to greater harm of the poor.
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LessiusCover-01In his famous work, History of Economic Analysis, economist Joseph A. Schumpeter gives a favorable nod to the works of Leonardus Lessius (1554–1623), sparking a fair amount of interest in the 16th-century Jesuit moral theologian.

CLP Academic has now published On Sale, Securities, and Insurance, a selection from Lessius’ most influential contribution to early modern economics, ethics, and law. The book offers the first full English translation of key sections of the second book (On Justice) of Lessius’ treatise On Justice and Right (De iustitia et iure), specifically chapters 21 (On Sale-purchase) and 28 (On Suretyship, Insurance, Pledge, and Mortgage).

Based at the Jesuit College in Louvain, Lessius earned the reputation as “Oracle of the Netherlands” for the advice and analysis he offered to local merchants, jurists, and political rulers regarding matters of conscience, duty, and justice.

As translator Wim Decock writes in the introduction: “Though dwelling on the virtues of prudence, fortitude, and temperance too, the better part of the treatise includes a systematic treatment of the virtue of justice and, particularly, of property, torts, and contract law.” (more…)

June 17, 1996

Rev. Robert A. Sirico & Justice Scalia – June 17, 1996

Over the weekend, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a giant of conservative jurisprudence, stalwart champion of originalist interpretation, and as such a true friend of the Constitution.

He was also a friend of the Acton Institute, and we are proud to share the address he delivered on June 17, 1997 at the Acton Institute’s Seventh Anniversary Dinner in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He titled his remarks “On Interpreting the Constitution,” and in them he explained his originalist approach to Constitutional law, and the severe drawbacks that he saw with any alternative method of interpretation. He described himself thusly:

I am one of a small but hardy breed of interpretists left in the world who are called “textualists,” or “originalists”… People ask me, “when did you become a textualist? What caused you to become a textualist?” You know, sort of like “when did you begin eating human beings?” As though it’s some weird thing, you know? I mean, I—when did you begin to become not a textualist? You know, you have a text, you should read the text! …I’m not kidding, I’m always baffled at the amazement of these people – “well, what a novel idea! You’re a textualist!”

I treat the Constitution the way laws, statutes have always been treated – we try to figure out what it meant when it was adopted.

Scalia’s pointed and witty observations reveal a man with a brilliant legal mind coupled with a wonderful sense of humor, and the arguments that he laid out in 1997 are just as relevant today, if not more so. During his address, he expressed a sense of pessimism about the state of the American legal culture and jurisprudence; but if he was a pessimist, he was surely a very jovial pessimist. His wisdom, his wit, and his steady presence on the Supreme Court will be deeply missed. We have remastered the audio of his 1997 remarks, and present them via the audio player below.

HaleLegal historian Sir Matthew Hale has been described as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.” Yet during his lifetime (1609-1676), he chose not to publish most of his legal writings, going so far as to prohibit such publication in his will.

Against these wishes, many manuscripts were copied and circulated by other lawyers after his death. One such work, Of the Law of Nature, was written on multiple hand copies, and now, for the first time ever, it is available via CLP Academic.

As its title indicates, the treatise explores the natural law, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s close connection between law and theology also demonstrates the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.

The work was most likely written as a series of private meditations and reflections by Hale, giving it a unique, free-flowing style. Hale also brings a unique theological background and perspective to the topic, as editor David Sytsma explains in the introduction:

Sometime between writing the Discourse (ca. 1639–1641) and the Law of Nature (ca. 1668–1670) Hale’s religious perspective underwent a shift in the direction of Arminianism away from the Calvinism of his youth…In a manuscript likely written in the late 1650s, Hale still affirmed the traditionally Calvinist belief that the light of nature is insufficient for salvation. But after the Restoration he moved toward an Arminian soteriology which understood the gospel of the new covenant as offering forgiveness of sins by a condition of imperfect, sincere obedience. He also came to affirm the view, commonly associated with Arminianism, that virtuous pagans could be saved through obedience to the natural law (discussed below). In the last years of his life Hale professed that “Points controverted between the Arminians and Calvinists” regarding God’s decrees, his influence on the human will, the resistibility of grace, and so forth were impossible to determine and of “inconsiderable moment.” …Whether or not Hale changed his mind in the last year of his life, the soteriology present in his Law of Nature is clearly representative of his Arminian turn.

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If you want to see what happens when a government fails its basic responsibilities of maintaining law and order, read this fine and saddening piece by Detroit Free Press columnist John Carlisle, “The last days of Detroit’s Chaldean Town.” In it you’ll encounter the fraying of the town’s social architecture built around faith, family, work, and government.

At a conference a few weeks ago I was involved in a discussion about the ‘worst’ jobs we had ever had. Mine was cleaning the meat room at a grocery store run by four Chaldean brothers in an area just a bit further east of Chaldean Town. I worked at a “training wage” for the better part of a year, I think, while in high school. I didn’t mind transferring out to make a bit less bagging groceries.

Joseph Sunde has written a fair bit on how “hard work cultivates character.” Earlier today I was reading through a classic speech by the famed American pastor Russell Conwell, which includes this bit of wisdom: “There is no class of people to be pitied so much as the inexperienced sons and daughters of the rich of our generation.” Conwell’s point was that the rich most often attained wealth by working smarter and harder. But “as a rule the rich men will not let their sons do the very thing that made them great,” thereby depriving them of the very same experiences that enabled the creation of wealth in the first place. This is actually as true for the moderately rich as it is for the extremely wealthy. As Michael Novak has put it, “Parents brought up under poverty do not know how to bring up children under affluence.”

So even though I hated that job cleaning the meat room at the Chaldean market, which closed some years later, I was sad to see it go and I’ll always carry those experiences with me and try to pass their lessons along to my own children. The rise and fall of Chaldean Town also has some things to teach us about flourishing at the community level.

supreme-courtJune is a busy month for the Supreme Court. The Daily Signal has given us a tidy round-up of seven cases to keep an eye on.

Reed v. Town of Gilbert: This is a free speech case. The Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz., uses signage to promote events at the church. The town has codes regarding signage, and the church says they are not fair. For example, the church is allowed to put signs for only 12 hours before their Sunday services. Meanwhile, a real estate agency can post much larger signs for 30 days.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the town’s claim that the ordinance lacks a discriminatory motive is enough to justify its differential treatment of religious signs.

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magna4James V. Schall, SJ, reflects on the importance of the Magna Carta – perhaps the best-known historical document in the world – at The Catholic News Report.

What was this famous legal document really like? What did it do? Some, like Oliver Cromwell, thought it was useless. Others did not think it particularly unique, since there were already hundreds of such charters throughout Europe. Others saw it as the basis of political responsibility, by limiting kingly rule. Still others considered it as the beginnings of natural “rights,” a doctrine, as Hobbes would later show, of most perplexing memory. The document is revealing to read. It is filled with medieval law issues and phrases. Yet it contains a thread of principle on which many nations—Canada, Australia, South Africa, the United States, India, and other former Commonwealth countries—have retained.

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