When a society falls below the threshold for tolerable injustice and its governing institutions are responsible for the injustices (for either perpetrating them or not preventing them), the state’s right to punish crime is compromised. And if its criminal justice institutions are insufficiently fair, effective, or humane, the state’s right to punish can be completely undermined. Moreover, lacking the authority to create obligations through law, it has no moral basis for condemning disobedience to its laws as such, particularly the disobedience of those unjustly disadvantaged in society. Its laws serve to coordinate action and (when penalties are attached) to warn of impending sanctions. But the state’s laws lack the moral power to impose duties of compliance. Such a state, if it is not too unjust, may have a right to punish serious and harmful wrongdoing as a defense of those whom it would be wrong to harm. However, it would lack the right to criminalize wrongful acts beyond these most serious ones, and it would lack altogether the moral standing to condemn defiance to legal authority.
—Tommie Shelby, Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform