The outdoors temperature moderated somewhat the other day, so I decided to drive the ol’ Camry to the automated car-wash. I paid the fee then queued behind a few other vehicles. Finally, it was my turn. The instructions on a large sign said to slowly drive forward then stop when the signal light turned red then place the transmission in neutral. With the car in neutral, the vehicle is pulled through the washing, rinsing, and drying processes.
The old car-wash is a relic from a past age when “Park” was not thought of as “Neutral”. Park is not neutral because Park locks the car in place. Neutral allows the car to move freely whether or not the engine is running. “Neutral” is a seldom used selection on modern day automatic transmissions. However, those of us who drive vehicles with manual transmissions place our selectors in neutral several times each day.
Neutral is an interesting word and concept. Besides motor vehicle transmissions, Neutral relates to achromatic colors such as black, white, and grey. Scientists understand neutral as something that has a net electrical charge of zero or as a subatomic particle that has neither positive nor negative charge. Neutral compounds and solutions are neither acidic nor alkaline.
We may think of neutral as belonging to none of the sides in a controversy nor aligning with or opposing, any side in contests such as war or sports. Ideally, a referee or umpire is neutral.
This past spring, several Madison County, Nebraska citizens and I twice went through the process of petit jury selection and once the selection of a grand jury. Great efforts by attorneys of the plaintiffs, defendants, and the county judge were made to ensure selection of the most neutral jury members possible. Care was taken to weed out people who may have had past or present interests in the outcome of the trial. Potential jurors were questioned about political, religious, and personal beliefs that may sway their opinions about the case in question. Ultimately, the jury and alternates were as neutral of a group of people as possible. The judge, himself, oversaw the selection process in an objective, neutral manner.
Although I was not selected to serve on jury panels in either trial, I was impressed by the levels of neutrality in the justice system at the county level. If I’m ever involved in a lawsuit or other serious legal matter, I feel confident that the county court would be the most fair venue because of its stress upon neutrality.
As I reflect upon county judges, state court justices, and federal district court judges I note that most of them do not espouse political or religious views. Most of them recuse themselves if they do hold personal opinions either favoring or opposing matters facing judicial decisions.
Then there is the situation with the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. The branch of government that should be most accountable to fairness and hold neutral opinions doesn’t seem to be always fair and neutral. The Justices are appointed by the President and are approved by or rejected by the Senate. The appointment and approval process is highly political. Advocacy groups, be they liberal, conservative, or special interest lobbies, the President and Senators depending on whether or not nominees align with the groups’ viewpoints.
Nominees are usually categorized as either liberal or conservative. The President and the Senate consider such alignments in the practical process of nominating and voting for or against nominees. In the end we have either liberal or conservative Supreme Courts. Although the US Supreme Court Justices should ideally be neutral referees, they really are not. Instead of ruling strictly according to Constitutional guidelines, their judgments are too frequently colored by political alignments and opinions. The fate and well-being of millions of Americans too often rests upon the opinions of Justices who are not neutral. Wouldn’t the Supreme Court be better served by judges who are as neutral as judges at the county and district levels?
The previous paragraph reveals that I am not neutral in regards to neutrality. It is obvious that I do not oppose neutrality but that I am greatly in favor of judges being neutral.
This just goes to show that being neutral does not mean being valueless. A car’s transmission selector can be placed in reverse, drive (forward), park, or neutral in order to operate the vehicle. Court judges may be influenced by her or his retrograde–conservative views, progressive views, fixed views, or neutral-objective views. In matters of national judicial decision making, wouldn’t it be better to have justices who can remain neutral in their judgments? I wonder how we can select them.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the twelfth President of the United States, Zachary Taylor. “In all disputes between conflicting governments, it is our interest not less than our duty to remain strictly neutral.”