When Should Law Forgive?
This event includes a book signing
October 10, 2019
Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store and Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics welcome renowned legal scholar MARTHA MINOW—former dean of Harvard Law School—for a discussion of her latest book, When Should Law Forgive?.
About When Should Law Forgive?
Crimes and violations of the law require punishment, and our legal system is set up to punish, but what if the system was recalibrated to also weigh grounds for forgiveness? What if something like bankruptcy―a fresh start for debtors―were available to people convicted of crimes? Martha Minow explores the complicated intersection of the law, justice, and forgiveness, asking whether the law should encourage people to forgive, and when courts, public officials, and specific laws should forgive.
Who has the right to forgive? Who should be forgiven? And under what terms? Minow tackles these foundational issues by exploring three questions:
—What does the international response to child soldiers teach us about the legal treatment of juvenile offenders in the United States?
—Why are the laws surrounding corporate debt more forgiving than those governing American student and consumer debt, and sovereign debt in the developing world?
—When do law’s tools of forgiveness, amnesties, and pardons strengthen justice, peace, and democracy (think South Africa), and when do they undermine law’s promise of fairness (think Joe Arpaio)?
There are certainly grounds for both individuals and societies to withhold forgiveness, but there are also cases where letting go of legitimate grievances can make the law more just, not less. The law is democracy’s girder beam, and Minow urges us to build forgiveness into the administration of our laws. Forgiveness, wisely exercised, can strengthen law, democracy, and respect for the humanity of each person.
Praise for When Should Law Forgive?
“In a world of noise and confusion, animated by vengeance, Martha Minow is a voice of moral clarity: a lawyer arguing for forgiveness, a scholar arguing for evidence, a person arguing for compassion.” —Jill Lepore, bestselling author of These Truths
“No one but Martha Minow could have written this brilliant, and brilliantly readable, meditation on the role of forgiveness in the law and of the law in forgiveness. . . [showing how] to move forward and rebuild while both remembering the past and getting past it.” —Laurence Tribe, author of To End a Presidency
“Martha Minow’s work on how societies can recover from large-scale tragedies and human-rights violations has been transformational. . . . Her insights are smart, thoughtful, and rooted in a deep, nuanced understanding of what justice sometimes demands.” —Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative
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The “Ethics in Your World” series, presented with Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, features leading thinkers taking on tough problems that matter to us all. Learn more about the Safra Center at ethics.harvard.edu.
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