No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom
Subhead: Keynote Speaker Honorable Sam A. Lindsay
by Emmanuel U. Obi
The judiciary is a central aspect of American democracy necessary to preserving our rich heritageof liberty, justice and equality under law. The fundamental necessity of the judiciary can be traced back our forefathers’ establishment of a three-pronged governmental structure essential to safeguarding our liberties. In the landmark decision Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court reinforced this system of checks and balances by fortifying the judiciary’s most essential power—judicial review. Accordingly, it is rather timely that this year’s ABA Law Day theme, “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom,” shines a spotlight on a critical issue that threatens the operational efficacy of our courts. As members of the legal profession and the community at-large, this profound issue deserves our immediate and sustained attention.
The recent global economic crisis has had far-reaching ramifications, including the increased frequency and severity of funding cuts for courts across the nation. For example, this crisis has constricted the availability of funding for,inter alia, pay raises for judges at the federal level and thereby negatively impacts the judiciary’s ability to recruit competent jurists. On the state level, according to a report published by the ABA task force examining this issue, “the courts of virtually every state have been forced into debilitating combinations of hiring freezes, pay cuts, judicial furloughs, staff layoffs, early retirements, increased filing fees, and outright closures.” Worse still, as the report highlights, is that “the reductions in court staff and related resources come at the very time when the demand for the judicial resolution of economic claims has increased dramatically.”
Ironically, these funding cuts reflect an arguably “penny-wise and pound-foolish” fiscal strategy. The truth is, as noted in the ABA report, any savings generated in the short-term by increased cuts to funding and resources are ultimately overshadowed by higher long-term social and monetary costs.
As in years past, the DBA 2012 Law Day Luncheon will highlight the pressing nature of the issues raised by this year’s theme. As such, it is quite fitting that this year’s keynote speaker is the Honorable Sam A. Lindsay, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Texas. Judge Lindsay is a highly regarded trailblazer who has spent his illustrious legal career supporting our court system and, more importantly, promoting equal and open access to it at various levels. In his former capacity as a Dallas City Attorney, Judge Lindsay worked diligently to ensure that Dallas citizens had fair and equal access to city courts. In November of 1997, Judge Lindsay was nominated by President Clinton to be a federal judge for the Northern District of Texas, and after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, became the first African-American federal judge in the Northern District of Texas, which includes 100 counties.
Throughout his entire career, Judge Lindsay has steadfastly remained committed to maintaining a high level of integrity, hard work, and the highest ethical practice of the law. When asked about the significance of this year’s theme, Judge Lindsay responded, “[i]f there were no federal court system, this country would not have a democracy; the court system is one reason democracy flourishes in this country today because it continually reminds members of society that we have a system based on laws and that no one person is above this system or any of its laws.” To this end, according to Judge Lindsay, “[t]he most important goal of any effective jurist should be ensuring a fair process in which the litigants of any case are treated fairly.”
As we celebrate Law Day this year, it is a good time to recognize individuals like the Honorable Sam A. Lindsay who have faithfully defended our courts. We should also commit our focus to finding fiscally reasonable solutions to the under-funding dilemma that is unduly restricting access to, and the functioning of, our courts. This will ensure the continued vitality of our court system—a critical thread in the democratic fabric of American life. In short, as the Honorable Thomas J. Moyer, former Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, once remarked, “[w]e can compromise on budgets, but we cannot compromise on justice.”
The DBA will commemorate Law Day 2012 with a luncheon on Friday, May 4, noon, at the Belo Mansion. Tickets are $35 per person. For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact Amy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emmanuel U. Obi is a corporate attorney in the Dallas office of Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP and a member of the Dallas Bar Association’s Publications Committee. Mr. Obi graduated from the SMU Dedman School of Law, magna cum laude, in 2007. He can be reached at Emmanuel.Obi@weil.com.