Although often interpreted differently by individuals, legal rights, human rights and the
jury system are essential features of the legal system. Nielsen believes that the main purpose of
rights is to protect individuals, while Hajjar portrays the objective of the legal system as
recognizing and respecting certain inherent human rights. Further, Dooley understands the jury
system as essential for ensuring a democratic and fair trial procedure. As rights and the jury
system are viewed according to these varying objectives, it seems there is a general assumption
that the legal system is intended to protect individuals from the power of the government.
However, individuals’ abstract idea of how the law works can be contrary to the actual workings
of the legal system. Rights and the jury system create the expectation in people that they will be
protected from the power of the government, and yet these expectations often remain unfulfilled,
creating a disconnect between the idea of protection and the reality of the legal system.
In her article “The Work of Rights and the Work Rights Do,” Laura Beth Nielsen asserts
that “legal rights are important for protecting individual autonomy and resisting the arbitrary or
tyrannical imposition of state power” (Nielsen 63). In the case of traditionally disadvantaged
groups, rights have provided a sense of power as a direct result of their nature. Nielsen explains,
“’Rights’ are said to apply equally to everyone, they are ‘neutral,’ and are backed by the
legitimate authority of law and the state,” and that “Rights are often thought of as naturally
inhering in persons” (66, 68). Because many minority groups view rights as inalienable,
absolute, and supported by the government, they believe these legal rights will act as a form of
protection from “the illegitimate exercise of state authority” (63). Nielsen claims that although
rights may be a significant tool for weaker individuals or groups to guard against the more
powerful government, the less powerful are actually less likely to know what rights they have
and when these rights have been violated (69). Nielsen also notes that it is their perpetual
position of disadvantage that makes these individuals less likely to exercise their rights, as they
feel their rights will not be recognized or that their claims will not be addressed (75). The very
nature of legal rights generally leads these individuals to perceive them as instruments for
challenging the power of the government. However, the inability of the less powerful to
understand or execute their rights demonstrates the divide that exists between the expectations
these individuals have of their legal rights and their lived experiences with the legal system.
The Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States is a clear example of the divide
between individuals’ expectation of their rights and the reality of the legal system. After the
bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, the United...