President's Column: Speaking of the Law…
John Adams famously stated ours is a “government of laws not men”.
Accordingly, you have rights—guaranteed in the Constitution, exercised by individuals and protected by the courts.
Courts administer Justice. Justice facilitates Freedom. Freedom ensures Democracy. Democracy preserves the Republic.
Among other rights, youhave the right to worship, speak and read about what you or others think and say.
You can gather together in groups for peaceful purposes, or you can stay at home and feel free from intrusion, searches or seizures from the government.
If you feel that you have been wronged by the government, you have the right to request that the government address any wrong-doings.
If you are accused of wrong-doing, you have the right to remain silent, secure a lawyer and ensure that the government carries the burden to prove the accusations against you before a jury of your peers.
If you are convicted of a crime, you do not have to endure cruel or unusual punishment.
You have the right to be a slave to no one, as well as the right to due process and equal protection of the laws.
At 18 years of age, you have the right to vote, and to duly elect your representatives.
Yes, you have rights…and a system of courts to protect those rights.
So, if someone inquires of you as to why we as a society have courts, you have the right to tell them what you wish…but as members of the legal profession, you may want to remind them that we have courts because courts are the cornerstone of our society. Our criminal courts and proceedings afford more rights and protections to the accused than anywhere else in the world. Our civil courts stand between order and lawlessness. Our system of laws is established through our collective conscience and our moral convictions. Without courts and a system of justice, people would take matters into their own hands with little societal recourse.
And, if you are asked what happens when people of conscience fail to act with conviction, or when courts fail to act, you have a right to ignore the question and carry-on about your daily life. But you may mention that if the courts don’t act—or if we don’t provide adequate resources, support and respect to our courts—justice is not served, freedom is compromised, and the integrity of the courts system is diminished. If the courts system is diminished, folks would not be able to receive justice, and would lose faith in the system and in themselves.
And, if someone tells you about that friend, relative or neighbor who presumably did not receive justice, you certainly have the right to hear his or her story, join in, and recount similar incidents of injustice— real or perceived. But faith in our country of laws, our courts system, our quest for justice and freedom continue to endure because society is committed to the belief that, although imperfect, the American Justice system is the best in the world.
You could tell them that our courts system has its basis in ancient tribunals, councils, commandments, codes and laws, but our current federal court system was reinforced during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Tell them that when the Constitution was completed and became effective in 1788, it contained something in it called the Preamble, which says: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States.” It also stated that the judicial power of the United States is vested in the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the land. All of this was done in an effort to establish a courts system which promotes Justice and protects Liberty.
Tell them that you took an oath as an attorney to protect and uphold the Constitution, and that you strive to do so daily. Perhaps even non-attorneys should strive to do the same.
Remind folks that in 1789 additional provisions and protections—also called the “Bill of Rights”—were added to the Constitution, and in 1791 when this Bill of Rights was ratified, certain rights were articulated for the citizens. Tell them that over the years certain Amendments have bee added to this living document and that consequently our Constitution endures as the oldest written constitution in the world (and one of the shortest, if one chooses to read it).
That’s what can be said about our Constitution, our courts, justice, freedom and the rule of law. As lawyers, it is my belief that we have a unique ability, and in fact an obligation, to articulate the fundamental nature of our profession and of ourselves as professionals. Let us not surrender that opportunity, or become derelict in that duty, to continuously strive to uphold and administer the law while also striving to educate and inform others about its societal significance.
In order to recognize this nation’s commitment to the rule of law, in 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day. Each year, Law Day has a theme, and this year, the American Bar Association’s theme for Law Day is “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.” As in years past, the Dallas Bar Association has encompassed the ABA’s annual theme into its Law Day programming.
This year’s DBA’s Law Day Luncheon, with the Honorable Sam A. Lindsay as speaker, will be held on Friday, May 4, 2012, at noon at Belo. You are encouraged to attend and to commemorate Law Day. You are also encouraged to commemorate the law daily. To purchase your Law Day Luncheon tickets, log on to www.dallasbar.org.