When Should Law Forgive?

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Sinopsis

The potential power of forgiveness in an age of resentment.

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 US?
  • 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)?

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