Getting Rid of the Ten Commandments: ‘Arrested Development’ Rewind: ‘Justice is Blind’

On June 28, 2012, at approximately 1000 hours Eastern Time, the SCOTUS offered its landmark decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of your politics, whether you think the ruling shines a ray of light into the heart condition your lunch is giving you, or you think it’s a national travesty—quoth the Palin: “Obama lies; Freedom dies”—you should admire a legislative system which, when pressed, will defend the rights of citizens, healthy, infirm, and/or corporatized. Above all, what the healthcare decision best demonstrates is how problematic adjudicating can be.

Traversing the legal gray areas, that’s what this court (and lower courts) are meant to do. The Supreme Court, it’s supposed to be the final word on these matters. That said, the nine Justices are human and prone to error; interpreting the law is complicated, especially the law of a 225 year old document. “It’s not like,” as Michael says in this brilliant episode, “there’s some list of rules handed down to us from on high.”

He’s speaking, of course, of the Ten Commandments. A much, much older document. A list of rules with little relevance to modern legislation, let alone modern life. The complications endured by the Bluths in this episode—faking an illness, knowing your sister is faking an illness, sleeping with your father’s prosecutor, the separation of church and state—are all left unmentioned by the laws God set in stone. Despite this, interest groups keep putting them in courtrooms and classrooms .

God’s laws, it turns out, are difficult to remember. Seriously, try to name all ten from memory; double points if you do it from a mountaintop. No character on the show can recite a single one correctly—according to Maggie and Michael, number seven is “Be true to thine own self, and to thine own self be true.” A pretty little bit of antimetabole, but if you’re keeping score, not Commandment VII. Actually, it’s incorrectly quoted from Hamlet. This is Polonius’ actual advice to Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

We’re all pretty much in agreement the Bluths are not paragons of decency. Michael’s the first to admit he has trouble staying on the moral high ground. In attempting an uncomplicated one-night stand, he unwittingly beds his father’s blind prosecutor. Once they uncover one another’s true identities, it dawns on them that what they did is wrong. Hot wrong. And they can’t stop it. They decide that if their adventures with the beast with two backs is inevitable, it must be kept secret. At least until the trial is over. This being Arrested Development, their tawdry affair falls apart, mostly because the lies that brought them together must tear them apart.

Lying, by the way, not in the Ten Commandments; bearing false witness is, but that specifically prohibits giving false testimony against your neighbor in court. You could interpret that as lying, but then you’d be doing a lawyer’s work, which as we all know is “Latin for liar.” Under such perverse logical knots, how could I ever trust your Biblical scholarship?

Michael, after discovering that Maggie’s seeing-eye dog Justice is blind, realizes she’s been faking blindness all along. He runs to expose her ruse in court. His intentions, I assume, are to get his revenge and to delay the trial further. Unbeknownst to him, Gob talks Tobias into stealing Maggie’s evidence from her home. She comes home to catch him red-handed. While attempting to escape, Tobias temporarily blinds her with her own perfume.

In this beautiful Seinfeldian marriage of A and B plots, Tobias’ actions completely undermine Michael’s attempted exposé. He beans her with the courtroom bible, restoring everything to normal. As a result, George Sr.’s trial stalls a little longer; Maggie isn’t disbarred and never has to admit to her scam. She gets a bible thumped in the face and skirts by on the Amazing Grace defense—“I was blind, but now I see.”

This episode’s C plot concerns Lindsay protesting a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse. While her motivation is, as always, superficial, her cause is just. Unless you think otherwise. It’s hard to say.

In my last column, I said I like to imagine the lawyer as a white knight, a Harvey Dent, working for the common good. The media definitely influenced this fantasy. The men and women of Law & Order had a lot to do with it. I suspect most people’s knowledge of the court comes only from film, television, and the occasional contested traffic ticket. Legal scholars, we are not.

The layperson probably can’t grasp how difficult it is to interpret law. It’s why there are fundamentalists—religious, constitutional, or otherwise. Understanding something is incredibly easy when you take it literally, word for word. But the Bible and the Constitution are both complicated texts. They contradict themselves and especially one another—a big reason I’m for separating church and state. No Ten Commandments in my courtroom, thanks. (Yes, I side with Lindsay on this one.)

But the idea itself, the complete separation of these behemoths, is only implied in the Constitution, never explicitly stated. Within the document, the limitations of separation are debatable, and their interpretations limitless. It’s an argument that will likely never end. Lawyers will fight to keep the Bible out of the Constitution, while others will fight to keep it in.

We can back either side. You can have your lawyers. I’ll have mine. And as this battle rages, let’s not forget what the Bible thinks of them: “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

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