Criminal Justice Section
Criminal Justice Magazine
Volume 16, Issue 3
By Ronald C. Smith
If You Want Peace, Work for Justice
On September 11, 2001, I turned on the television and saw the second plane exploding through New York’s World Trade Center. Like so many others, I was not able to accept the reality of what I had seen. In the hours and days afterwards, we watched the pictures again and again in an effort to grasp the dimensions and significance of the horrors of those dreadful events. God help us! Had we witnessed the moment historians will mark as the birth of the twenty-first century?
Every possible word has been used and repeated to describe the evil of the suicidal terrorists, the nightmare of destruction in New York and at the Pentagon, the heroism of passengers in the fourth plane, the courage of so many others, and the probable passing of the old order.
The threat was not theoretical, academic, or imagined. Thousands of people died. A handful of men had done this.
The government quickly moved to track down conspirators and witnesses, and to prevent more acts of terrorism. Congress reacted by granting the president broad powers to act, as if we were at war. The hunt for culprits—all with Middle Eastern names and faces—was on. Hundreds were held as witnesses or as lawbreakers, without bond or access to habeas corpus. Assets were frozen. The military was mobilized. American flags appeared everywhere.
The sudden rhetoric of war and retribution alerted and alarmed many people. ABA president Robert Hirshon, responding to messages of concern from many ABA leaders, promptly obtained authority from the ABA Board of Governors to create a Task Force on Terrorism and the Law. I responded to his request that CJS nominate a member to serve on the new task force. Professor Stephen Saltzburg, member of the CJS Council, immediately accepted his appointment. He stated that, as horrible and tragic as the terrorists’ acts were, we had to avoid another tragedy—the undermining of the Constitution.
No one knows how all these events will play out. We know that short-term solutions can have long-range consequences, and that the collateral damage of the threat of war or subversion is the curtailment of the rights and freedoms that are at the core of this nation’s values.
A Netscape poll (September 28) showed 60 percent of the respondents declared they were willing to surrender "some" civil liberties in favor of greater security. If there is another major act of terrorism, what percentage of Americans will clamor for abridging liberties so that the government can move to thwart other plans to commit atrocities?
We may ask: What freedoms do we dare dilute as we seek freedom from fear? To what extent will we jettison our claims to privacy so that the government may read colorably suspicious electronic mail, widely eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of suspected terrorists (or drug lords, or pedophiles, or security risks, or deadbeat dads), and peep into our hard drives in the name of national security and public safety? Will attorneys concede that the government may require them to report their clients’ "suspicious" activities?
We cherish our autonomy and our freedom to move about without interference from the government. In the need to feel secure, do we acquiesce in the suggestion that the government issue each of us a national identification card?
It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your suspect is?
The Criminal Justice Section has always been concerned with the dilemmas we now face. In recent years we addressed the issues of racial profiling, electronic surveillance, the erosion of the attorney-client privilege, the International Criminal Court, and other matters affecting the delicate balance between rights and public safety. In light of the events of September 11, 2001, we may be revisiting all these matters again.
Let me turn to the broader question: What do we as lawyers, as lawyers in the criminal justice system, do?
For the moment maybe we keep doing what we have always done. The issues will come to us soon enough. We are ready.
Let me share two thoughts.
First: one of my colleagues at The John Marshall Law School has a framed banner on the wall of his office. It reads: "If You Want Peace, Work for Justice."
Well, yes. But there are so many different kinds of justice.
We in the Criminal Justice Section work for justice—some form of justice—as we go to and from court, work on appeals, get involved in the affairs of our communities, and contribute to the life and mission of this Section. Most of us are courtroom lawyers. Prosecutors, judges, or defense attorneys (and even law professors), we work for justice in this society by performing our roles in this nation’s wonderful adversary system. We work for justice when we serve on committees and advisory boards, put on or attend CLE programs and institutes, study and debate the issues, lobby our representatives, write and edit books (yes, produce the articles that appear in this magazine), and strive to achieve and maintain professional excellence. Day after day, in our many different ways, we work for justice. There will be changes and challenges; we will continue to work for justice.
The second thought (and I will get off my soapbox): I like to think of another saying, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." In all the ways we seek justice each of us lights candles. Together, we light thousands of candles. When we do, we light the way for others to see how they, in their own ways, can light candles and work for justice, too.
Ronald C. Smith is a chair of the Criminal Justice Section and a professor of law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois.