Judicial error does not exist

From Leonardo Sciascia’s Equal Danger (Il Contesto), the opening of a speech by the President of the Supreme Court that I find the (not-so)secret core of the novel and that maybe best explains Sciascia’s concluding comment in the afterword – ‘Lastly, I should add that I kept this fable in a drawer in my desk for more than two years. Why? I don’t know, but this could be one explanation: I began to write it with amusement, and as I was finishing it I was no longer amused.’

“Have you ever thought about the problem of passing judgment on a man?” For a moment, he threw himself back in his chair, as if he were in the throes of death because of that problem.
“Constantly,” Rogas said.
“Have you solved it?”
“No.”
“Exactly, you have not solved it…. I have, obviously…. But not once and for all, not definitively … Here and now, speaking with you, and mindful of the next case whose outcome I shall have to preside over, I can even say I have not solved it. But, mind you, I am speaking of the next case. Not about the case that has just ended for me or about a case from ten or twenty or thirty years ago. For all the cases in the past, I solved the problem, always; and I solved it by the very fact of judging them, in the act of judging them…. You are a practicing Catholic?”
“No.”
“But Catholic?”
Rogas made a gesture that signified: like everyone else. And in fact he did believe that all men everywhere were a little bit Catholic.
“Of course, like everyone else,” the President inter­preted correctly. Assuming the posture of a priest at catechism: “Let us take, well, the Mass, the mystery of transubstantiation, the bread and the wine that become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. The priest may even be unworthy in his personal life, in his thoughts. But the fact that he has been ordained means that at each celebration of the Mass the mystery is com­pleted. Never, I say never, can it happen that the transub­stantiation not take place. And so it is with a judge when he celebrates the law: justice cannot not be revealed, not transubstantiated, not completed. A judge may torment himself, wear himself out, tell himself, ‘You are un­worthy; you are full of meanness, burdened by passions, confused in your ideas, liable to every weakness and every error’—but in the moment when he celebrates the law, he is so no longer. And much less so afterward. Can you imagine a priest who, after celebrating Mass, says to himself, ‘Who knows if the transubstantiation took place this time, too?’ There’s no doubt; it did take place. Most assuredly. I would even say inevitably. Think of that priest who was seized by doubt and who, at the moment of the consecration, discovered blood on his vestments. I can say this: no judgment has ever bloodied my hands, has ever stained my robes….”
Without meaning to, Rogas made a sound much like a groan. The President looked at him with disgust. And as in a fireworks display, when everything seems to be over, in the stunned silence and darkness one more lumi­nous, elaborate, and thunderous rocket explodes, Riches said, “Naturally, I am not a Catholic. Naturally, I am not even a Christian.”
“Naturally,” Rogas echoed. And indeed he was not surprised.
The President was disappointed and irritated, like someone who has just performed a magic turn only to have a child jump up and say he has understood the trick. With a note of hysteria, he proclaimed, “Judicial error does not exist.”
“But the different levels of courts, the possibility of petitions, of appeals—” Rogas objected.
“—postulate, you mean to say, the possibility of error. But this is not so. They postulate merely an opinion—let us call it a lay opinion—about justice, about the adminis­tration of justice. An outside opinion. Now, when a reli­gion begins to take lay opinion into account, it is already dead even if it doesn’t know it. And so it is with justice, with the administration of justice. I use the term ‘ad­ministration’ to please you, clearly, and without granting it the slightest statutory or bureaucratic meaning.”

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