Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Without law, the land shall be laid waste"

Flooded courthouse

Hurricane Katrina left the evidence rooms of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court flooded for two and a half weeks. The New York Times now reports on the consequences of the physical destruction of evidence. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system in New Orleans, to put things mildly, have not returned to pre-storm levels of performance. Already the city is battling a surge in drug-related violence.

In the pivotal moment of Brennunjálssaga (The Story of Burnt Njál), lawspeaker Njál Þorgeirsson proclaims, "Með lögum skal land vort byggja en eigi með ólögum eyða." With law, the land shall be built; without law, the land shall be laid waste. New Orleans after Katrina, alas, turns this maxim of Icelandic literature and jurisprudence on its head. The land having been laid waste, there is no law.

Þingvellir, site of Iceland's Alþingi in medieval times


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