Barriers to the achievement of justice for all

Is Justice for All Possible in America?

1.0 Introduction

In the current American society, a congregation of students in classes, police assemblies, and all other civic meetings, it is the norm to recite the loyalty pledge to the flag of the United States. However, looking at the people reciting, it gives the impression that these words are said as obligatory rituals without the people listening attentively to the more profound meaning carried by the words. The last words in the loyalty pledge can be termed as the most countercultural words of commitment that are nevertheless pledged without the deserving weight being put on them. The founders of the American society envisioned a society where all the people would be guaranteed liberty and justice at equal levels (Feinstein et al.)[i]. Liberty, in the minds of many American citizens, is defined as the state of being free to exercise one’s will and act according to their desires. This shallow definition is then the source of all fallacies in the perception of justice for all.

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The heritage of justice postulates that all people are treated equally in American law without anyone being enslaved in any way. Justice is the social situation where every person is accorded equal opportunities to succeed economically and socially, without anyone being disadvantaged.  Justice is, therefore, a social tenant that reinforces human worth and spiritual worth. In American society, though, the idea of justice for all has been an elusive goal to meet (Feinstein et al). Research on the extent of justice implementation reveals that justice is usually skewed in favor of a chosen majority while most of the people’s right remains repressed. Justice for all is not exactly possible in America due to inequalities permeating all elements of the society and which have deep-seated historical roots.  This paper provides a philosophical understanding of justice and traces the efforts of the American government to achieve justice for all.  The research then sheds light on the barriers that inhibit the achievement of a just American society, and lastly, offers recommendations on how the existing obstacles to justice for all can be overcome.

2.0 Background: Access to justice

Access to justice is crucial in the establishment of the rule of law since it makes the citizens to be heard and their rights respected in all areas. Access to justice is, therefore, an essential factor in empowering citizens and securing human worth. There exists a mutual link between facilitating equal access of justice to all and social, economic development in a country. According to a sustainable development report produced by the united nations, there exists an intrinsic link between the equal access to justice with others such as poverty elimination and inclusive growth (Safiedine et al[ii]).

Enabling a society with equal access to justice empowers the women and disfranchised the population to participate in the development and, thus, uniform growth in the community.  This research adopts a broad framework when accounting for the inability to achieve justice for all. Barriers originate within and outside the justice institutions. The research also discusses the various obstacles and recommends solutions on how justice for all can prevail.

3.0Philosophical understanding of justice for all

One of the works that Plato is credited for is the evolvement of the concept of justice. Understanding the definition of justice, according to this theory, is imperative to help compare the ideal state with America.  Platonic perspective likens to the quality of individual mind; that justice takes the form of a human brain, the functions, qualities, and the relative values.The mind of a person is a homogenous entity that is characterized by three elements; the viz, appetite, spirit, and reason, which all work together to accomplish the functions of the mind (Udoudom et al)[iii]. Every part of the brain must act virtuously in harmony with others while following aspects of reason stipulated by the mind.Supposing that the element of appetite works under reason, the results of the actions are moderate or temporary. When reason works under its compulsion, the virtue of wisdom is born of this. However, when all parts of the mind function under the sovereignty of reason, a more complex virtue of justice are coined in.  From this understanding, justice is a virtue or quality that initially exists in mind before being manifested in society.

The platonic perspective of justice takes a microsom to the macrosom approach in understanding the roots of justice in society. For justice to be termed as complete in the Platonic view, virtues existing in the individual’s mind must be harmonized with the society. The society, on the other hand, is comprised of various elements. The first part is the producers and artisans, who sustain the social needs of food, shelter, and other necessities of sustainable survival (Udoudom e al). The society then has to be kept safe against onslaughts, which then derives the class of soldiers and armed forces. The third class is the class of rulers, who form the ruling government. The three categories of elements in society correspond with the identified tenets of the mind. The producers correspond to appetite, the fighters’ spirit, while the government can be equated to reason aspects of the human mind. Every class of elements must then function in coordination with others for justice to be achieved in society. The virtue accorded to the producers is temperance; fighters’ courage while the ruling class must posit an attribute of wisdom which the yields justice as the final virtue of the entire society.

Plato identified the idea of justice as being abstract and which cannot be felt by the senses alone, except reason.  Justice is said to be best manifested in a society where there is political and social order. Justice is a substantial part of the society that binds all the other elements into a harmonious coexistence. Plato then stated that the three discussed aspects of a person’s mind are in varying degrees from one person to the other. While some are embodiments of desire and can manage commerce, others are motivated by power over others.

Conversely, others are good at organizing forces at the battlefield against the enemies. This theory suggested that in a perfect state, artisans will be tasked with the production of goods but not rule. At the same time, the rulers who are the bearers of knowledge will be fed, be protected, and will preside over all the other classes of people (Udoudom et al)

A reflection of the Platonian theory then paints the American society picture. In the class of producers are people of different races who toil to feed the ruling elites.  However, in the absence of reason in a society, then there arises a state of anarchy or chaos. This perspective task the ruling class with indexing order in the society guided by knowledge.  Therefore, if the ruling class induce certain prejudiced thinking, the impacts of this will trickle down to the society and corrupt then minds of the citizens (Safiedine et al). At one point, Plato quotes that the ruling class has a direct impact on the peace of society. A look into the American justice system under the historic lens supports this claim and further explains why efforts to serve justice to all has not been achieved yet.

4.0 Tracing justice in American society

To understand the impacts of history on the face of America today, it is imperative to trace the efforts for justice in various eras. America was founded mainly through conquering the lands previously owned by indigenous people (Aron et al.,)[iv].  The whites brought diseases such as smallpox, which swept the indigenous tribes who didn’t have the immunity to them. From this stemmed the concept of white superiority.  Consequently, the whites took precedence and enslaved the blacks to work for them. Following the ratification of the13th amendment that abolished the slave trade in the united states, the black codes, which were legalization of racial segregation, came up. These were strict sanctions that dictated significantly how the former slaves were supposed to live in American society. These codes were especially pronounced in the South, which was a legal way to push the black citizens into indentured servitude by denying them the right to vote and controlling their movements. These stemmed from the state and thus opposed to the Platonian teaching about an ideal state. Public transportation means were segregated as well as residential areas and other public amenities.  At one point, the people of color were not allowed to vote, and when they were, their votes counted as two-thirds of a vote, which was high-class discrimination (Aron et al.,). By implementing this idealism into the society, the leaders had coined in a far-reaching concept that would remain to inhibit the achievement of justice for all.

From the treatment of races differently, society then began perceiving some races as minors, thus not entitled to equal treatment under the law. Although the state tried to implement laws of inclusion, the heart and minds of the people had been permanently corrupted by this idea of social stratification, which was not easy to erase. There then emerged various famous cases such as Brown vs. state, which featured in an aspect of racial discrimination in education. Remarkably, following the passage of the civil rights of 1964, most of the whites moved to the suburbs to avoid mixing with the blacks (Aron et al.,). The problem of de facto segregation is still evident in contemporary American society. The justice system is characterized by individuals with a racist attitude concerning the minority of some tries. In the past few years, the media had captured unjust practices of racial profiling in police checks as well as the use of excessive force when arresting black people. In the prisons and incarceration facilities, there is a disproportionately high number of African American men. Reports suggest that these usually face more severe penalties once they commit a crime as opposed to their white counterparts. This notwithstanding, there is a higher number of unemployed people of color across significant age and gender groups. These, however, are only the legacies of the historic cultivations of racism.

Another piece of evidence is concerning the high number of children from ethnic minorities who live below the poverty line. The number of Hispanic and African American children living in impoverished conditions is projected to increase each passing year. Another health report illustrates a higher mortality rate of people of color as a result of living in areas with top risk factors for certain chronic diseases (Noonan et al)[v].

This is a clear projection of how far behind American society falls in light of ‘justice for all’ idealism. From the discussed premises, it is easy to attribute the failure of efforts of promoting justice to historical roots. Some of the attitudes and problems manifest today draw roots from the history of America (Safiedine et al). Leaders especially failed and are continually failing on their role to lead with knowledge as dictated by the Platonic theory. This then further complicates the state’s efforts to achieve justice for all.

5.0 Barriers to the achievement of justice for all

5.1 Cultural

There exists a wide range of social factors in America that inhibit the efforts being made to ensure justice for all, as discussed below.

5.1.1 Poverty

Poverty can be argued as both a cause and consequence of unequal access to justice. Having limited human and financial allocations to the justice system gives rise to failures in the justice system. These failures than have a negative impact on the poor since their economic situation cannot enable them to overcome the barriers. The American society is usually stratified with the poor hardly being aware of their labor rights, thus making them susceptible to exploitation (Katherine[vi]).

The existence of several other social obstacles arising from poverty includes stigmatization, limited political say, and social discrimination. Poverty in American society is usually spread to communities deprived of means of production and thus unable to access critical elements of justice. The social stratification then hinders the initiative of ensuring justice for all. With poverty being highly pronounced in marginalized American communities’ access to justice, then remains a goal far from being achieved. The economically deprived are less aware of their rights, while their economic situation inhibits their access to counsel and tribunals.

5.1.2 Discrimination

Discrimination is a highly defined social construct in the American population that affects all aspects of justice. This aspect gives priority to the people deemed as superior while denying the perceived inferior population the awareness of their legal rights, access to dispute resolution mechanisms, and the achievement of fair, impartial solutions. Discrimination especially takes form on certain groups more than others due to their inherent characteristics. For instance, women often fail to get equal justice during a civil legal battle with their male counterparts (Katherine). Minority races, immigrants, and indigenous people often face significant obstacles in enforcing their rights due to formal and informal discrimination, which gives rise to stigmatization.

Legal discrimination then hurts the ability of these people to access justice. Immigrants, for example, often face a significant contradiction to their access to justice. Interacting with the justice system reveals their identity and may sanction them to deportation. By choosing to preserve the irregular status, the immigrants then become vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by the superior race (Baran et al)[vii]. Women, especially from the indigenous communities, are disproportionately on the face of discrimination in accessing justice mechanisms, which reflects on this as a peripheral concern in American society.

5.1.3Literacy and education

There is a significant relationship between the level of literacy and their capacity to understand the enforcement of their rights. One impact of poverty is manifest in the poor standards of education among the disenfranchised groups. This then resulted in a less literate population who are not well informed about their legal rights. Studies have shown that migrants and indigenous people experience significant barriers the access to justice, for instance, in the case where the languages used in courts do not cater to their linguistic deficiencies (Baran et al).

This problem became pronounced during the segregation of the races in American society, which provided poor educational opportunities to the minority while giving the white superiors high quality of education. This then laid the framework for the unequal access to justice by the members of these minor races (Edelsky)[viii]. It becomes impossible to enact justice for all slogan to a population that is unequally aware of their legal rights.

5.2 Institutional barriers to justice

The capacity, structure, and operation of the American justice system have a significant impact on achieving justice for all.  The American government has done a commendable job of improving judicial infrastructures for easy access. However, there remains a problem when it comes to legal representation and the level of autonomy granted to the legal systems.

5.2.1 Funding of the justice system

Insufficient allocation of capital to the justice institutions creates a shortcoming to the overall functioning of the justice system, which then impedes access to justice by specific populations. The capacity of the judges will have significant input in determining the ability of the courts to render fair treatment of the population.  In the American case, this is manifest by the failure of the concerned parties to register complaints, especially if reported by the vulnerable groups to a racist system. Consequently, there emanates the justice system fosters the validation of impunity among the offenders who are mostly from the advantaged social group (Edelsky). The victims of injustices are then mistreated or disregarded due to their structural characteristics. This being the case in most of the justice channels, the possibility of achieving justice for all is then compromised, and injustice pronounced in such platforms.

5.2.2 Judicial independence

Studies reveal that in cases concerning people from a minority, the judges are more likely to be under pressure to deliver a verdict on the favor of the superior race or gender. This is so due to the influence of various key players, such as the media and pressure groups, which may then have an impact on the judge’s verdict. Independence of the judiciary is crucial to the proper functioning of the legal system (Feinstein et al). Having a less independent justice system inhibits the equal access to justice to the homogenous American population

5.2.3Legal assistance and court representation

According to article 14 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, all the states are mandated to the providence of free legal aid to persons with limited ability to pay for this. This is especially relevant to people with civil disputes. With poverty reigning on most of the minority groups, their ability to afford legal assistance is limited. Owing to the resource constraints, legal aid is equally limited, thus leaving the individual to cater to their legal needs. With limited financial potential, the majority of the population has little to no choice in appointing the lawyers of their choice, which creates an imbalance between the affected social groups.

5.2.4 Distrust of the justice systems

Individuals who have been victims of discrimination, for instance, on the hands of police or other state authorities may choose not to rely on the justice system to provide solutions to their problems.  Distrust of the courts stems from witnessing the unjust outcomes of the justice system reveals the inadequacy of such a system in solving disputes. Distrust occurs from the perceived shortcomings of the justice system. The interplay of the legal systems and culture results in poorly implemented justice for all.

5.2.5 Corruption

Corruption, especially at the lower levels of the justice sector, which mostly handles the cases concerning minority populations, has a negative impact on the implementation of justice for all. Before a matter reaches a judge, corruption usually has altered the situation in significant ways. This then leaves the poor people at the mercy of such a system and justice prevailing only among a small proportion of people.

6.0 Recommendations

As evident in the factors affecting justice for all, significant barriers are resulted by the social constructs of the minority and superior races. All the obstacles interact with reciprocating effects to inhibit the efforts to achieve justice for all Americans. One way of overcoming these barriers is by the implementation of civic education targeting all groups in the society, including children. This will enlighten the population and inform them of their rights in the face of the stratified community. Again, this can be compounded by installing mechanisms of oversight, such as the media, to investigate and remedy abuse in the legal system. Not only will this increase the public trust of the justice system but also, it will improve the transparency in the legal systems (Feinstein et al). To address the institutional barriers to justice, the government should increase computerization in court procedures to increase the levels of accountability and transparency in courts. The police and judges should be trained to enforce the code of ethics in handling cases irrespective of personal characteristics. This would induce a gradual shift in the attitude held by the minority communities regarding the status of the criminal justice system and lead them to trust it (Katherine). All these efforts are directed at legal empowerment to enable people to know and use the law. Justice for all is a dictate of the loyalty pledge. As easily as people recite it, every person should be engaged in the implementation of efforts aimed at treating all people equally from the community level up to the state level.

Works Cited

Aron, Nan. Liberty and Justice for All: Public Interest Law in the 1980s and Beyond. Routledge, 2019.

Baran, Dominika, and Quinn Holmquist. “23 Immigrants Facing Linguistic Barriers in the US Justice System.” Language and Social Justice in Practice (2018).

Edelsky, Carole. With literacy and justice for all: Rethinking the social in language and education. Routledge, 2006.

Feinstein, Randi, and Andrea Greenblatt. “justice for all?” (2016).

Naff, Katherine C. To look like America: Dismantling barriers for women and minorities in government. Routledge, 2018.

Safiedine, Salma S., and K. Jeannie Chung. “The price for justice: The economic barriers that contribute to an unfair and unjust criminal justice system.” Crim. Just. 32 (2017): 40.

Udoudom, Mfonobong David, and Samuel Akpan Bassey. “Plato and John Rawls on Social Justice.” Researchers World 9.3 (2018): 110.

Noonan, Allan S., Hector Eduardo Velasco-Mondragon, and Fernando A. Wagner. “Improving the health of African Americans in the USA: an overdue opportunity for social justice.” Public health reviews 37.1 (2016): 12.


1.0 Introduction

2.0 Background: Access to justice

3.0 Philosophical understanding of justice for all

4.0 Tracing justice in the American justice

5.0 Barriers to achievement of justice for all

5.1 Cultural Barriers

5.1.1 Poverty

5.1.2 Discrimination

5.1.3 Literacy and education

5.2 Institutional barriers to justice for all

5.2.1 Funding of the justice system

5.2.2 Judicial independence

5.2.3 Legal assistance and court representation

5.2.4 Distrust of the justice system

5.2.5 Corruption

6.0 Recommendations and conclusion



[i]Feinstein et al. provide basic tenents of understanding the road map towards justice for all.


[ii]Safiedine, Salma S., and K. Jeannie Chung. “The price for justice: The economic barriers that contribute to an unfair and unjust criminal justice system.” Crim. Just. 32 (2017): 40


[iii]Udoudom, Mfonobong David, and Samuel Akpan Bassey. “Plato and John Rawls on Social Justice.” Researchers World 9.3 (2018): 110.


[iv]Aron et al provides a deeper understanding of the law prior to 1980


[v] Noonan et al provides a background on the causes of social stratification in the American society in the health field.


[vi]Naff, Katherine C. To look like America: Dismantling barriers for women and minorities in government. Routledge, 2018

[vii]See Baran, especially in the first chapters concerning the linguistic problems faced by immigrants on the face of criminal justice.


[viii]Edelsky, Carole. With literacy and justice for all: Rethinking the social in language and education. Routledge, 2006

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