Skip navigation
College Quarterly
Fall 2011 - Volume 14 Number 4
With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful
Glenn Greenwald
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011
Reviewed by Rusul Alrubail

If all else fails, there is the law. People place their beliefs, hopes, feelings of righteousness and even vengeance in the justice system. The idea that the law does not discriminate is far from the truth, however, and society is aware of this sad fact. Greenwald introduces events and cases to the reader where the law has functioned to the benefit of the privileged when they commit crime. His argument is that the rich and powerful elites and government officials are able to get away with some very unlawful actions. They get away with breaking the law because they can alter or dismiss it.

Greenwald tackles the exact same issue that resurfaces often on his blog—injustices committed by the powerful. In With Liberty and Justice for Some, the thesis is a reiteration of its subtitle, a description of"how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful". Greenwald begins with the"origin of elite immunity" dating back precisely to Vice-President Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Greenwald goes on to describe in more detail other disgraceful occurrences in which US presidents (and governors) have pardoned members of the elite, simply arguing"aristocratic privilege". He focuses on the domestic spying that occurred during the Bush administration. He also criticizes the current Obama government for failing to prosecute the financial elite of Wall Street and their enablers in the previous Bush administration.

With Liberty and Justice for Some is divided into five sections: The origin of elite immunity, immunity in the private sector, too big to jail, immunity by presidential decree and American justice's second tier. The chapters are composed of examples of cases and events that illustrate each aspect of the law supporting the rich and powerful in the United States. The language is very comprehensible and free of lawyers' jargon, which makes it easy to follow the cases.

Greenwald's narrative answers the question of"how" the American justice system has discriminated and continues to discriminate between the average citizen and privileged individuals who owe their exemption from punishment to political influence, social status and economic wealth. However, Greenwald's narrative does not explain what led the law to be used in such a distorted way that it does not protect the people for whom it was allegedly created.  

The purpose of the book is to explain to the readers how the law was able to accommodate, fix and forgive the crimes created by the elite, something that unfortunately cannot be said for the average citizen. It seems that Greenwald is calling upon his readers to act upon such systemic injustices. He might be trying to cause change by simply making readers aware of such injustice, but how? After reading With Liberty and Justice, one wonders what we can do to prevent such unwarranted clemency. We are missing the call-to-action in this book. Perhaps there really is nothing that people can do because, after all, they neither have comparable financial nor political resources to compete with the privileged individuals who escape punishment under the law.

The reason Greenwald does not offer a way to change the operation of the justice system is probably that it can only be fixed by the hands that ruined it, or the fact that it cannot be fixed at all; yet people should still be aware that the law can be conveniently bent depending on whoever is standing trial.

This book is an informative and interesting to read. It is not groundbreaking in any sense, but it is refreshing in comparison to other literature, considering that it does expose some of the American government's unjust actions taken against its own people.

Rusul Alrubail, teaches in the School of English and Liberal Studies at Seneca College in Toronto. She can be reached at