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Power and the Legal System

Powerful Essays
Access to the law and legal system is the ability to shape it, both in its meaning and

understanding. While the factors that usually determine the power to shape law are not static, in

general, access to law has been held by specific groups of people: the wealthy, males, whites,

and religious authorities. In constructing the law, these specific groups have traditionally used

their power to reinforce their dominant position and impede the ability of powerless groups to

further their interests. It is this position of advantage that allows the prevailing groups to

maintain a system of inequality fortified by the law that protects their prosperity while forcing

the disadvantaged to appeal to problematic methods to promote their well-being as a result of

their lack of access.

In his speech, “Address to the Prisoners in Cook County Jail,” Clarence Darrow defines

law as a creation of the rich, who, because of their wealth, own and control most of the property

and institutions of society (Darrow 229). The access that comes with their wealth then grants

them the power to construct the law in a way that sustains their elite position. For Darrow, as a

consequence of this system of power, the unprivileged individuals are forced to seek out other,

often criminal means of living in order to survive. He explains this by stating, “The more that is

taken from the poor by the rich, who have the chance to take it, the more poor people there are

who are compelled to resort to these means for a livelihood” (227). By wielding their power, the

rich have been able to consistently thwart the ability of the poor to access legitimate

opportunities, often leading them to participate in activities such as robbery and burglary in order

to ob...

... middle of paper ...

... for the structure of inequality to be destroyed, access to the law and the ability to shape it

must be given to all.

Works Cited

MLA Citation

Darrow, Clarence. “Address to the Prisoners in the Cook County Jail.” Before the Law: An

Introduction to the Legal Process. Ed. John J. Bonsignore., et. al. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin Company, 2006. pp. 225-232.

Galanter, Marc. “Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal

Change.” Before the Law: An Introduction to the Legal Process. Ed. John J.

Bonsignore., et. al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. pp. 81-89.

Kropoktin, Peter. “Law and Authority.” Before the Law: An Introduction to the Legal Process.

Ed. John J. Bonsignore., et. al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. pp. 158-167.

MacKinnon, Katherine. “A Rally Against Rape.” White Plaza, Stanford University. 16 Nov.

1981.
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