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Crossing the lines of judgment

  • 30 January 2018


The outcome seemed little in doubt. Former Olympic Doctor Larry Nassar was not going to wriggle out of this one. The trial had seen 160 young women submit victim impact statements about his past conduct which featured sexual abuse and molestation.

But it was Judge Rosemarie Aquilina who seemed to land the final blow, 'establishing herself', in thewords of a CNN assessment, 'as a booming voice at a moment of cultural reckoning'.

'Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment,' claimed the judge in a tone of vengeful deliverance. 'If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all these beautiful souls — these young women in their childhood — I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.'

This was the language of the hanging judge, the judicial officer made famous in English legal literature for having scones before delivering a death sentence. At this point, there is not so much justice as a process of avenging merit, the tribe wishing to morally justify how a cruel figure should be treated and vanquished.

The moved judge, finding her options on inflicting such punishment limited, settled on the curious terms of 'honour and privilege' to sentence Nassar to a term of 40 to 175 years, served after completing an initial term of 60 years. There would be no parole for Nassar, a point duly admitted by Judge Aquilina. He will die in prison.

Certain lawyers have been looking at the judgment with worry. Attorney Anne E. Gowen expressed alarm that the judicial office had been compromised by such bloody language. 'I come to court to insist that the judiciary respect the constitutional rights that protect us all, and in doing so, I have to be able to trust that judges will fairly and impartially apply the law.'

The point made by Gowen and defenders of an impartial judicial office lies in a simple facility: policing the line between the power of the state and its imposition of penalty, and the power of the lynch mob and its representatives.


"The judge facing such a case must eschew the tendencies of the unmediated vigilante, favouring self-reflection and awareness."


The surrender of the infliction of violence by the community to the office of the judiciary did allocate a monopoly to the state. It was a process that had every bit to do with stability as it did with process.