“Certain other societies may respect the rule of force—we respect the rule of law.”
—John F. Kennedy
As lawyers, we see the rule of law as the promise that we live in a nation of laws that are justly and fairly enforced. These laws protect our freedom, rights and property from both government intrusion and the unlawful acts of others. The rule of law also requires that each of us, no matter whether elected official or private person in civil society, remains accountable under law so that justice will be done.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has called the rule of law “the foundation for all our basic rights.” We, the lawyers, work hard each day to deliver justice through the application of the rule of law, whether it be to meet the unanswered need of a disabled child who does not get medicine because of a shortage caused by illegal market forces, for a family’s tears for a loved one lost to a bridge collapse directly linked to negligence or corruption, or for a prisoner’s hopelessness resulting from low-quality mental health services afforded by a private prison contractor not held to account.
As lawyers, we have a role and an obligation to step up, speak out and be heard on the importance of this foundational principle critical to our democracy.
I ask you to work with me, together with lawyers in and across our communities, to advance the rule of law, educate the public to its importance, stir interest in our participatory democracy, and promote a renewal of civics education throughout our country. Regardless of party, politics or beliefs, it is up to us, the lawyers, to ensure this promise to our nation is fulfilled.
The country, and indeed the world, is watching and depending on American lawyers to stand up to bigotry, hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and inequality. They see how as lawyers and judges we bring together people of opposing views and drive disputes to peaceful resolution. They have benefited from our efforts to tackle intractable social problems. They have witnessed our persistent defense of the independence of the judiciary and our simultaneous demands that the judicial system be fair at every turn.
And they have noticed—yes, they have noticed—that we strive to do all the above with civility and through respectful, thoughtful discourse, no matter how polar opposite our positions.
At the ABA, our focus is on four equally principled goals, one of which is advance the rule of law. In speaking out to promote the rule of law, we also further our other goals: to serve our members, to eliminate bias and increase diversity, and to improve the profession.
My deepest appreciation and admiration go out to Bob Carlson, who preceded me as ABA president. He is an outstanding champion for our profession and the public.
As we move forward, we are counting on every one of you to continue to advance the rule of law and help wake the public from its civics slumber. Our rights and responsibilities are far too precious and important to be taken for granted.
We, the lawyers, must remind them why.
This article ran in the September-October 2019 issue of the ABA Journal with the headline “Promise to a Nation: ABA advances the rule of law to assure fairness, justice, and ultimately, our democracy”