The Meaning Behind The Lady Justice Statue

By Kiley Whittal June 21 2020 in Society

The Statue of Justice - lady justice or Iustitia. Image credit: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock.com
The Statue of Justice - lady justice or Iustitia. Image credit: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock.com
  • Lady Justice hasn't always been blindfolded.
  • The Greek goddess Themis was one of the inspirations for Lady Justice.
  • You won't see the snake in all Lady Justice statues.

The Lady Justice statue is used across the world, with relatively consistent symbolism. She stands tall and strong for fair and equal application of the law, virtue, integrity, impartiality, power, and justice. Symbolism is a powerful form of communication; Lady Justice stands in courthouses to remind all those that pass through of the power of the law, and justice.

The symbol of Lady Justice finds its roots in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian history. Themis is a Greek god, representing law, order, and justice. In Greek mythology, Themis is depicted as a female figure, which is why Lady Justice is a  woman. Although Themis isn’t one of the more famous Greek gods by name, she is a fixture in many of our lives each day. In Egyptian mythology the muse for Lady Justice is the goddess Ma’at - she is the embodiment of truth, harmony, order, and justice. Roman mythology tells of four Virtues, of which Justicia is one. She represents similar characteristics to Themis and Ma’at, thus the combined history of our current Lady Justice. 

Lady Justices’ Accessories

Over the centuries, additions and alterations have been made to the common depiction of Lady Justice to include more characteristics we strive to associate with the legal system. The weighted scales, sword, and book are all symbols meant to invoke desirable associations in us. The scales represent balanced consideration, equality in the eyes of the law, and objectivity. The scales bring to mind weighing a decision carefully and taking time to measure outcomes. Lady Justices’ sword symbolizes both power and punishment at the hands of the law. A slightly more menacing object, the sword is meant to remind us that punishment is a deterrent, and the law is capable of enforcing punishment. The book sometimes carried by Lady Justice is fairly straightforward - it represents the written law. The narrative intended here is that Lady Justice holds up the book of the law; she enforces its power objectively and fairly. 

The Blindfold

The blindfold on the statue of Lady Justice. Image credit: Icedmocha/Shutterstock.com

One of the other famous additions Lady Justice has received over the years is a blindfold. Most of us know the blindfold to mean that the law is blind, we are all equal in the eyes of the law, etc. The idea here is that justice is justice no matter who you are, the ideal in the legal system. An older explanation of the origin of the blindfold from the US Supreme Court is that originally the blindfold represented tolerance to abuses of the law by the judicial system - turning a blind eye. The former is the more current and intentional use of the blindfold symbol. 

The Snake Debate

Lady Justice shown trampling a snake. Image credit: Mina Tepes/Shutterstock.com

In some depictions of Lady Justice, she can be seen stomping a snake under her foot. There are two main considerations here. First, the snake is a symbol for corruption and evil in many cultures. Mediums such as children’s movies often depict a snake as the villain, we use expressions like “snake in the grass” to describe someone being sneaky; the snake is a bad-guy trope, and one that we’re accustomed to seeing. In this sense, the snake being crushed by Lady Justice represents evil being done away with. 

Secondly, snakes are powerful symbols in Christianity. A snake can symbolize Satan, lies, corruption. In the Bible, evil was brought to the Garden of Eden by a snake. The snake is sometimes left out of Lady Justice statues to avoid this association with religion. Separation of church and state is a guiding principle in many countries, and what can be perceived as a religious symbol might not lend itself well to the desired depiction of Lady Justice as impartial and objective.

Common Uses Today

Presently, look for Lady Justice presiding over anything that involves a legal system. She is a nearly ubiquitous figure in front of courthouses in North America from the federal to municipal levels. Law offices frequently display a version of the statue as a reminder of the commitment of lawyers to these principles. Small versions of Lady Justice often adorn the desks and offices of lawyers and judges. Lady Justice has become the talisman for not only the judicial arm of government, but also the individuals who work within the legal profession across the world.

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