Webster's Dictionary (of 1828) definition of justice begins, "The virtue which consists in giving every one his due...." it goes on to include impartiality and equity. Webster himself has been well quoted as saying, "Justice is the great interest of man on earth."
The Federalist Papers #51 states, "Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society, it ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in it's pursuit."
As a complex society with diverse cultures and the seemingly inevitable conflicts of personal desires and morals we will forever be adjusting our view of this most important virtue.
Justice as a goal and value is the cornerstone of a free society, democracy, liberty, and a fair economy all have roots in the concept of justice. Further, every facet of life and society is ultimately dependent on the common respect for the concept to operate properly. Our government activity, our law enforcement, our economy, business, and personal rights are all fully dependent on respect for justice. Though we depend on laws and legislation to sustain justice, we may, and do have, unjust laws.
Conservatives usually think of justice in terms of punishing miscreants and social behaviors of which they disapprove. Liberals normally have a larger view, thinking in terms of social justice and economic parity. The concept of environmental justice and animal rights are relatively late 20th century ideas.
Very early in United States history Supreme Court of the United States Judge Story invented the idea that property was an overweening value to justice, creating all sorts of mischief throughout our history, from the justification for slavery to private interest eminent domain.
Throughout most of the 20th century American justice was advanced in terms of human rights and economic parity. We managed to extend rights to African Americans, eliminate discrimination in voting, housing, and jobs. We greatly increased women's rights in voting and work place dignity and respect. We extended access for the handicapped.
In more recent times we have seen incredible diminishment in both legislative and general social justice applications and practices.
The United States operates an unjust empire. We are currently engaged in seven separate wars. In recent years we have seen over 3,500 state laws reducing voting access for citizens. Our once "free" markets have become riddled with unjust and impossible entry requirements, while consumer protections and workers rights have been neutered. Our drug enforcement and general sentencing are influenced by race. We protect various corporate interests from lawsuits and criminal prosecution.
Our founding fathers well understood the interpersonal relations of their time. Our current leaders, seemingly representatives of corporate America, behave as if their goal is control rather than expanding freedom...and, Justice.
The word "Justice" is wrought in stone on public buildings all over the country, yet, curiously, legal pleadings and arguments seemingly have left the concept behind. Precedence, favored by many judges, has replaced the simpler virtues in these instances. The problem with this is that the cold technical history of precedence is far too often founded on truly unjust legislation. The result is that injustice not only prevails but also becomes codified.