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In late March, former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech prior to the anticipated launch of his presidential campaign. In it, he denounced “English jurisprudential culture,” claiming that “it’s got to change” and that it’s “a white man’s culture.” To support his claim, Biden referenced the “rule of thumb,” which he claimed allowed men to hit women with sticks smaller than a thumb in British common law. This claim alone is categorically false, the rule of thumb was never codified in law and British and colonial American legal codes prohibited men from beating their wives. Biden’s broader claim is similarly ill-conceived and exposes a corrupt understanding of the development of western society and the problems that have plagued our country. 

English jurisprudential culture specifically references the Anglo-American judicial system’s foundational beliefs regarding due process of the law, equal rights and fair punishment. While I do not believe Biden takes issue with these ideas, he falsely connects prior shortcomings in living up to these ideals with the foundational principles themselves. There is no doubt historical injustices such as slavery, Jim Crow and unequal sentencing are wrong and worthy of condemnation. However, the existence of these prior injustices does not impugn our justice system, as the values espoused by “English jurisprudential culture” is what led to us to see these happenings as morally wrong. The constant pursuit of equal rights and a just judiciary is at the heart of our culture and continues to drive us to correct our shortcomings.

When Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he centered his remarks around our founding documents and the words of our Founding Fathers. He argued that America had failed to live up to the promises and values set forth by our founders during the writing of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. However, he did not condemn the documents or founders themselves just because the current state of the country was out of line with those original principles. Instead, he showed the country how changes could be made in order to live in line with the values our founders had built our country around. King was right, and as a country, we worked to address the injustices that existed at the time and helped to bring our nation’s values closer to fruition. Unlike King, Biden’s response to perceived injustices in our judicial system was to condemn the system itself, and with it the very values he believes are being ignored. It would be fair and beneficial to encourage the country to strive for a more moral system but condemning the system altogether is unproductive and misguided. 

Biden’s comments are likely attempts to shore up support among the far-left prior to the primary campaign, rather than indicators of his true ideological beliefs. However, the mere fact that casting aspersions on the foundational elements of our justice system is perceived to be a beneficial campaign strategy is deeply concerning. Biden may be right to assume that such statements will help to prove his leftists bona fides to young primary voters, as many students have been educated under a system that propagates the idea that western society is inherently racist, and that the resulting institutions are similarly evil. The answer to this crisis of appreciation for western civilization is proper civics education that encourages critique of our societies prior shortcomings while cultivating an understanding of the fortune that our western tradition bestows upon us all. Foundational principles such as equal rights, opportunity for all and the rights of the accused are unique occurrences in human history and must be celebrated and protected in order to ensure their continuation. 

Charlie Chapman is a senior at Burlingame High School. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at news@smdailyjournal.com.

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(8) comments

Mike Caggiano

I'm glad the writer looks for errors made by our many politicians. Mr. Biden has often mis-spoken on many issues but his general thrust has always been for continuity of our constitutional system and rule of law. His extensive career and voting record should leave no doubt about that. Not so much for the probable Republican candidate. No legislative experience and no track record of consistency about much of anything other than his reliable self dealing and self promotion. The Republican party has become the party of change when it suits Mr. McConnell and then change it back again when needed. As far as the President, well consistency is definitely not his strong suit. He's far more an arbitrary and chaotic individual than a reliable statesman. The danger is that the public might confuse this with leadership and think he just might have a grand plan that he's not telling us about. Big mistake. His plans change with the weather and his whim. Far more like a potentate from the children's fables of our youth than a suitable occupant for the most important position on the planet.

Terence Y

Mr. Caggiano, would you like sour grapes with your crow? While you're enjoying your dinner, maybe you could research the origin of the nuclear option. Your old buddy, Harry Reid, is the one who started that ball rolling. If you're going to make new rules, don't be surprised when it's used against you. If another Democrat ever gets elected as President, don't be surprised when activist judges begin ruling against everything that President tries to accomplish. And if you're such a fan of Biden, why don't you and all of your relatives contribute to his campaign? You may achieve stardom in another segment in his cringe-worthy videos of hair smelling, hugging, kissing, etc.

Mike Caggiano

Terence, we're all very lucky that there are nearly 20 interesting candidates in the primary to choose from. ANY of which I"d take over the bad joke we have now.

Terence Y

Mr. Caggiano. Your side could have 50 candidates, but they'll all have one thing in common - they'll be losers. What are they going to run on? Post-term abortion, open borders, higher taxes? All losing propositions. I can't wait for them to start eating each other and then seeing which candidate the lamestream media will endorse. Your buddy Joe doesn't seem to be faring well with the media. Even in CA, should we take bets on when the first charges of racism will occur from Harris' camp in reference to Swalwell's camp? Load up on that popcorn!

Mike Caggiano

I'm sure there is some accuracy in stating that Joe Biden tends to mis-speak more than is useful. Now I"d like to take a look at what the probable Republican candidate espouses. Aside from his dismal understanding of any principles other than what is expedient for him in the next five minutes (subject to complete reversal at any time). You can couple that with the behavior of Senator McConnell who seems to have adopted a rather similar approach to governance. Change the rules when it suits you and then demand they be changed back when you are on the receiving end of similar behavior. Check out the filibuster game he's playing. This is at the nub of arbitrary and capricious actions that lead to the erosion of the 'Rule of Law' that the writer rightfully champions. Unfortunately the Republican Party seems to be opting more for Strongman rule rather than respect for our constitution. I"ll take a mis-speaking Biden over the other option that would lead to us all to authoritarianism. Been there done that thank you.

Terence Y

Unfortunately, many politicians, in their hope to appeal to the left, moderate, or right will promise the world until they get elected. We can only hope that they keep their promises. If not, then it's time to vote them out. We also have people actively trying to remove monuments to history, or rename buildings, teams, etc. if it doesn't meet their arbitrary criteria for acceptance, regardless of historical significance. Unfortunately, in my opinion, these same people have overused the word "racist" so that it has lost all meaning.

Kudos on another polished column, Mr. Chapman. Well-written paragraphs with effective concluding sentences.

vincent wei

Well done, Charlie.

Cindy Cornell

Not a fan of Biden, but a big fan of founding principles. However people are inherently racist and that reality exists in every institution and corporate environment, including our judicial system. People who are privileged and in power have the hardest time even seeing it, much less acknowledging it.

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