A Champion|of Justice

     I’ve found the job title I want, though I’m that fired up about the duties.
     Back in the day, a champion was the fellow who fought for a noble or a bishop in “any lawsuit which might be terminated by a judicial duel,” if you can believe J.J. Jusserand, and I see no reason to doubt him.
     Well, you can’t expect a noble or a bishop fight a battle for himself, can you?
     They have other things to do.
     J.J. Jusserand is, or was, the author of the celebrated “English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages” (1888), and it’s got some rollicking yarns in it, let me tell you.
     He was also French ambassador to the United States during World War I, back before we were supposed to patriotically hate French people because … I forget. Why are we supposed to hate French people this time?
     Jusserand, who seems to have admired the English government more than he admired his own, tells of a duel between the champions of the Bishop of Salisbury and the Earl of Salisbury in the 29th year of the reign of Edward III. That would be 1356, or thereabouts.
     I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the bishop cheated.
     “When the judges, conformably to the laws, came to examine the dress of the combatants, they found that the bishop’s champion had several sheets of prayers and incantations sewn in his clothes.”
     Incantations? From the Bishop of Salisbury? That might have been the first C.Y.A. memo in history.
     Me, I’d go with the Works of Shakespeare. I’d sew so many of those babies into my clothes I’d look like The Incredible Hulk lumbering onto the field of battle.
     The nobles’ and bishops’ champions’ duels, though, I am glad to say, “were not those of the cases of felony and crime which resulted in the death of the vanquished; it was merely the duel with staff and shield (cum fuste et scuto) which required, as may be imagined, the replacement of the champion much less frequently.”
     Well, I would hope so. We champions don’t expect to be laid off like an ink-stained newspaper reporter or outsourced to Bangalore like an electron-stained computer programmer. No, sir, we expect to stay here in our Homeland and fight, swaddled in protective documents.
     Judicial duels, or trial by combat, as I’m sure you know, derived from Germanic law, and were briefly incorporated into the laws of the Holy Roman Empire, if you call 500 years brief, and some of us do. The idea was that God would take the side of the Just One, and direct his arm, or something. Though it never hurt to sew a few incantations over a champion’s sensitive parts.
     Judicial duels sort of faded away in the 1500s.
     That’s too bad.
     I’d like to see judicial duels revived in the United States. I’m thinking of a few Supreme Court justices here.
     I’d like to see Clarence Thomas square off against the prison inmate whose teeth were kicked out by a guard, and for whom Thomas wrote a dissent saying that the guard had not inflicted cruel and unusual punishment.
     Let Justice Thomas and the inmate settle it by judicial duel. See whose arm God will direct, and how.
     I’d like to see Justices Roberts, Scalia and Alito join hizzonorable Thomas and have it out on neutral ground with some of the fellows who were waterboarded, subjected to “stress positions,” “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and threatened with anal rape at Guantanamo and in the CIA’s not-so-secret prisons. But not tortured. No no, not tortured.
     Of course, our honorable justices could weasel out of the fight by appointing champions.
     That’s always the way.
     OK, then, I’ll be their champion.
     But the honorable Supreme Court justice – whichever one it is – has to help dress me in Shakespeare before I enter combat for him.
     After all, if I’m going to be his champion, and risk life and limb for him, cum fuste et scuto, that’s the least he can do.
     Shakespeare has some interesting things to say about torture, and justice, and law. I could read a few passages to the justice while he dresses me. Better yet, I could seize an appropriate moment and give him the Works.

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