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Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902)

“To make laws that man can not and will not obey, serves to bring all law into contempt.”

Photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony together by J.H. Kent


Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was one of the leaders of the suffrage movement in the United States. Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, and helped found the National Women’s Suffrage Association, serving as its president for over 20 years. Throughout her life she wrote and spoke prolifically in support of women’s rights. Departing from other women’s rights activists of her day who focused only on suffrage, Stanton tirelessly fought against gender inequalities in education, religion, society, and the law.

Among her many seminal publications, Stanton wrote A Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, a document that framed the women’s rights movement in the language of liberty used in the Declaration of Independence. She also authored The Women’s Bible, a critique of Christian teachings in light of women’s rights. This quotation comes from a speech in support of legal reform to allow for divorce that Stanton delivered to the Tenth National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1860. In her speech, Stanton argues that by attempting to control personal choices, such as leaving an unhappy marriage, governments call into question compliance to all laws: “A very wise father once remarked, that in the government of his children, he forbade as few things as possible; a wise legislation would do the same. It is folly to make laws on subjects beyond human prerogative, knowing that in the very nature of things they must be set aside.”



Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984)

“Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.”
French social theorist Michel Foucault participated actively in the cause of French prisoner Roger Knobelspiess, who was sentenced in 1972 to fifteen years in prison on charges of robbery. Knobelspiess was subjected to solitary confinement in a quartiers de haute sécurité or QHS (high security) prison. Foucault considered the harsh conditions and video surveillance within the QHS facilities to be a form of torture and an abuse of law, in part because QHS sentencing was decided not by the courts, but through internal prison administration. Foucault later analyzed incarceration in terms of social context and abusive power relationships in his major work published in 1975, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

When Knobelspiess’ case came to trial in 1981, the pardon that he received from François Mitterand provided him with celebrity status. However, in June 1983, Knobelspiess was again arrested for armed robbery and was sent to jail, an event, which prompted a response from Foucault in the French newspaper, Libération. This quote is from Foucault’s article “You Are Dangerous” (“Vous êtes dangereux”). Foucault writes of his dismay that so many people were surprised by the new charges against Knobelspiess. He protests that it would be irrational to assume that Knobelspiess was guilty of the earlier charges simply because of his second arrest: “You are a danger to yourselves and a danger to us, if, that is…you do not wish to find yourself in the hand of a legal system that has been put to sleep by arbitrariness. You are also a historical danger. For, like a society, a justice which has to question itself can exist only if it works on itself
and its institutions.”

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault 420-421(1993).
Gary Rosenshield, Western Law, Russian Justice: Dostoevsky, the Jury trial, and the Law 107 (Univ. Wis. Press 2005).
Michel Foucault, Vous êtes dangereux, Libération, June 10, 1983, at 20.



George Eliot (Marian Evans) (November 22, 1819 – December 22, 1880)  Illustration "Waiting at the River" by Frederic Leighton

“Who shall put his finger on the work of justice, and say, ‘It is there?’  Justice is like the Kingdom of God – it is not without us as a fact, it is within us as a great yearning.”


George Eliot was the pen name of popular English author Marian Evans (1819 – 1880) who wrote seven novels and multiple short works of poetry and fiction during her lifetime. Romola was Eliot’s fifth published novel and was set in 15th century Florence during the dominance of religious leader Girolamo Savanarola. Eliot uses this historical background to explore the themes of betrayal, vengeance, and justice. After an angry mob chases the villain of the novel off a bridge and into the river Arno, he washes up yards away from the adopted father he has woefully mistreated. The father has been kept alive by his desire for revenge and as soon as he exacts it he expires upon his adopted son’s corpse. It is at this junction in the story that Eliot turns from the action and addresses the reader with her striking comment on justice.



Oscar Romero (August 15, 1917 – March 24, 1980)

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear.  Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.  Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.  Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.  Peace is dynamism.  Peace is generosity.  It is right and it is duty.”

Photo of Monsignor Oscar Romero giving communion to a parishioner in El Salvador, 1980 by Valente Cotera


This quotation was recorded on January 8, 1978 when Oscar Arnulfo Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero was a vocal opponent against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. He often spoke out for peace and human rights, either during Mass or to an expanded audience through his radio broadcasts during a time of increasing civil unrest and growing political violence in El Salvador.

On Sunday March 23, 1980 Romero made the following appeal: “Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasants…No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God…In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people, I ask you—I implore you—I command you in the name of God: stop the repression!”  Romero’s request was perceived as a political call to mutiny. He was assassinated the next day as he celebrated Mass at a Salvadoran hospital.

In 2003, the Center for Justice and Accountability filed a civil action against one of the architects of Romero’s assassination, former Salvadoran Air Force Capt. Álvaro Rafael Saravía, after he was discovered, living in California.  Saravía disappeared after the Complaint was served.  In September 2004 a U.S. federal judge found Saravía liable for Archbishop Romero’s murder and issued a default judgment in the order of $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Salvadoran President Elías Antonio Saca González refused to reopen the case in his country, stating, “Opening up the wounds of the past wouldn’t do any good for a country that is looking to the future.”

Biography, Archbishop Romero (1917-1980), (last visited April 16, 2012).
1 Mario Aguilar, The History and Politics of Latin American Theology 110 (2007).
Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., El Salvador: Year In Review 2004, Encyclopædia Britannica, (last visited Mar. 28, 2012).
Doe v. Saravia, Center for Justice and Accountability, (last visited April 16, 2012).

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