Can breaking the law ever be justified
When Breaking the Law Is Justified
There are reasons to believe that civil disobedients should be dealtwith more severely than ordinary offenders are. First, there is thefact that disobedients seem to have put themselves above the law inpreferring their own moral judgment about a certain issue to that ofthe democratic decision-making process and the rule of law. (Althoughsome judges have endorsed this caricature, it is worth noting that itclashes with how both dissenters and many theorists characterise theiractivities; cf. Rawls 1971; Greenawalt 1987; Markovits 2006.)Second, the communicative aspect of civil disobedience could be said toaggravate such offences since it usually is attended by much greaterpublicity than most covert violations are. This forces legalauthorities to concern themselves with the possibility that law-abidingcitizens will feel distressed, insecure and perhaps imposed on if noaction is taken. So, notes Greenawalt, while authorities may quietlylet minor breaches pass, failure to respond to violations performed, insome respect, in the presence of authority, may undercut claims thatthe rules and the persons who administered them deserve respect(Greenawalt 1987, 351–2). Third, any use of violence would seem toaggravate civil disobedience particularly when it increases the harm ofthe offence or when it directly incites further and unjustifiedinstances of violence. And although violence may eloquently communicatea dissenter's seriousness and frustration, it changes the natureof the dialogue. It pushes authorities to respond in ways consonantwith their stance on violence – responses which may be harsherthan those they would otherwise wish to make toward acts of civildisobedience that defend values they can appreciate.
In your own opinion, could breaking the law ever be justified?
For desert and communicative theories concerned solely withjustice-based desert, the key question is whether disobedients deservecensure, and if so, how much? There are at least three possiblereplies. One is that disobedients deserve the same punishment as theordinary offenders who breach the same laws. There are several reasonsto take this view. First, as Greenawalt puts it, the demands ofproportionality would seem to recommend a uniform application of legalprohibitions. Since trespass is prohibited, persons who breach trespasslaws in protest of either those laws or other laws are equally liableto persons who breach trespass laws for private purposes. Second, alsofrom Greenawalt comes the suggestion that any principle that officialsmay excuse justified illegal acts will result in some failures topunish unjustified acts, for which the purposes of punishment would bemore fully served. Even when officials make correct judgments aboutwhich acts to excuse, citizens may draw mistaken inferences, andrestraints of deterrence and norm acceptance may be weakened forunjustified acts that resemble justified ones (Greenawalt 1987, 273).Therefore all such violations, justified and unjustified, should betreated the same.