Torah Portion: Mishpatim
Do not favor [even] the poorest man in his lawsuit (Shemos 23:3).
It is a negative commandment that the judge not have [misplaced] mercy for the weak and destitute during the course of a court case. He must, rather, judge the case truthfully and treat both the wealthy and the poor man equally, to make the poor man pay if he indeed owed the money. It is thus written, Do not favor [even] the poorest man in his lawsuit (Shemos 23:3). This law is repeated elsewhere: Do not give special consideration to the poor (Vayikra 19:15). Our Sages explain that this is to teach us that [the judge] should not say to himself, “This man is poor, so in any case I and the wealthy litigant are obligated to support him; I will acquit him and in that way he will be supported in a neat manner.” The Torah therefore emphasizes, Do not give special consideration to the poor.
The root of the mitzvah is obvious, for common sense dictates that not favoring anyone in court is just and proper.
This mitzvah applies in all places and at all times to men who are fit to judge.