Since the first modern-day legal system began in Rome, the scales of justice have been used to symbolize the balance between truth and fairness sought after in the justice system. Although often depicted alone, the scales are frequently held by Lady Justice, or Justitia, in Latin, the Roman goddess of justice. Along with the concept of truth and fairness, the image is also used to depict the balance between the support and opposition a case has, with Lady Justice responsible for weighing the two and reaching a fair and just verdict.
Throughout the world, the scales of justice are an ever-present symbol of the ideals aspired to in the legal system. They remind attorneys, judges, and juries of the heavy task before them. Each side of the scales can be thought of as one side of a case before the court. As each side presents evidence and argument, the scales tip to one side or the other. The judge, or jury, is responsible for determining which side is heavier when all the evidence and argument has been presented.
The origins of Lady Justice are thought to date as far back as the ancient Egyptian goddesses Maat and Isis, and later the Greek goddess Dike, the goddess of mortal justice. The Roman goddess generally carries the scales, a sword, and wears a blindfold — each being an accoutrement borrowed from one of the previous goddesses. Her sword is symbolic of the power of justice. The blindfold often worn by Lady Justice is where the term "justice is blind" comes from in modern speech.
Countless sculptures and paintings have been created based on the scales of justice. It is commonplace to see a representation in one form or the other of the scales in courthouses and courtrooms as a reminder to the participants in the legal system of the importance of justice and fairness. Presents which incorporate the image make excellent gifts for lawyers, judges, or anyone involved in the legal system.
What Do the Scales of Justice Represent
The now antique beam scale often symbolizes the scales of justice. You may recognize the scales of justice from television shows or movies when intensive court cases are depicted. Or, perhaps, you’ve had the good fortune of visiting the courthouse yourself and noticed the scales of justice along the way. You can find the scales of justice in and around places where legal happenings occur because it is closely tied to the legal system. The scales of justice are meant to represent a fair and balanced system in which justice will outweigh any other opposition.
Lady Justice Meaning and History
Lady Justice is known by other names, and in ancient Rome, she was known as the goddess Justitia in Latin. This Roman goddess is often shown blindfolded and is commonly rendered with the scales of justice in one hand and a double-edged sword in the other. Countless statues, paintings, sculptures, and other artworks exist in honor of Justitia.
There are also several linguistic reminders of Justitia, her blindfold and sword, and the scales of justice. If you think about the appearance of Justitia, you may be able to come up with a few of these common sayings on your own. If not, the following are some colloquial phrases based on her representations:
- Justice is blind
- The truth hurts
- Weighing a decision
- Weighing the evidence
- To tip the scales one way or the other
- All men are created equal
- Hanging in the balance
- Truth is a double-edged sword
Controversy in the Famous Depiction
Lady Justitia and the scales of justice have been around since the beginning of the modern-day legal system. Back in ancient Rome, the scales were still meant to represent a fair and impartial system created to bring about a just verdict and, if necessary, a fair punishment. However, many people have commented on the contradictions of Lady Justice with all her accoutrements and the system she is meant to represent.
Justitia is seen blindfolded. Her being blindfolded is meant to represent the idea that justice is blind and that, no matter who you are or what you like, justice will outweigh any malice in the system. The common argument is if Lady Justice is blindfolded, how will she know that the scales are balanced, unbalanced, or tipped toward justice or injustice. The representation is not a literal one, of course, but the comparison has notable critiques in a legal system with very visible flaws.
The scales of justice are representative of the justice system that began in ancient Rome. Many are hesitant to call the modern legal system just because there are so many frequently uncovered scandals. Debated opinions aside, there are contradictions in a modern representation of the scales. Suppression of evidence is likely the most significant obstruction of justice in weighing fairness that the contemporary legal system faces.
The Double-Edged Sword
Justitia also carries a double-edged sword. Many people refer to this sword as the sword of truth. Double-edged swords have taken on a negative connotation in modern language, and this term often represents something with both a positive and negative aspect.
Justitia’s double-edged sword represents protecting truth, justice, and fairness while also having the ability to exact punishment for those who do not follow the rules of an orderly society, as ancient Rome was constructed. Considering that Lady Justice carries a sword meant to both protect and punish, the methods of justice can seem, to some, skewed at times.
The Reimaginings of Lady Justice
As people discuss the varied meanings of Justitia, the blindfold, her sword, and the scales of justice, there are still new iterations of her look being conceived in modern art and print. Artists and writers use familiar representations to provoke thought. These re-imagined depictions create an argument that the observer or reader can think on without engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue.
Art is a socially acceptable way to add criticism to the accepted systems of a society. A common modern rendering includes Lady Justice peeking out from under her blindfold to suggest the obvious subjectivity of the legal system. Other depictions not only have Justitia blindfolded, but they have her gagged, as well; this rendering indicates that there is no room for a just verdict spoken in the modern world. A different critical stance on the legal system envisions Justitia, blindfolded with her sword and the scales of justice, but one scale tray is weighed to the floor with money.