When most people hear words like “litigation” or “injunction”, the images these words conjure are often far from revolutionary or liberating.

Case numbers are called, people rise and sit, gavels bang, a symphony of patience, protocol and paper shuffling only understood by a select few.

Law—and the outcomes of justice, accountability, freedom that we hope for —is (theoretically) accessible to everyone yet understood in its whole depth by few.

During my first few weeks here at the ACLU of Michigan, I’ve watched the work behind the scenes wrestling with injustice in the courts as well as in the halls of the legislature.

In this environment I cannot help but be uplifted by the work and grit of brilliant legal minds but even more so by their bona fide belief in the impartiality of it all.

The cases are but a small sampling of a greater reality—one in which law serves two purposes: to release and to control.

Say a judge rules that we cannot be sent to jail if we are unable to pay a fine, or a ruling comes down for marriage equality in our state.

When this happens, we celebrate our release from injustice. We revere the practice of law and all is right with the world (cue the Star Spangled Banner).

The same is not true when the tables are turned, however.

What if, for instance, we discover that the government is using our laws to justify tracking our private conversations?

Sometimes the law is the problem—or at least part of a greater problem that perpetuates injustice and opaque systems of control.

Who most often benefits from the release and who most suffers from the control? Those who offer up answers argue that these realities are symbolic of legal injustice in the 21st century.

As someone who cares about social justice, it’s easy to obsess over how the law is used and abused to control.

It's particularly hard when those being controlled are often people of color, women, LGBTQ identified people, people from low-income communities, etc.

Still, I imagine a nation in which law and ideals such as justice, freedom, and the right to self-determination are not merely written on the halls of our courts in Latin. I want to see those ideals written in the lives of each of our citizens in their native tongues, freed from the pains so many have in our young democracy.

The work of organizations like the ACLU, defending civil liberties and basic rights afforded to us as American citizens, is crucial to a world in which law is not the barrier but the aid in the self-actualization of individuals and the progress of communities.

By Jonathan Moore, ACLU of Michigan Communications Intern

Learn more about Jonathan Moore, ACLU of Michigan Communications Intern