GPSolo Magazine - June 2004

The Rule of Law

One of the pleasures, as well as one of the pains, of serving as Chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division is the amount of travel involved. Frequent trips wreak a certain amount of havoc in my practice, making it difficult to maintain the routine schedule to which I am accustomed. With that being said, I freely admit that the gain associated with meeting lawyers from various parts of the country certainly outweighs the pain. In the course of my travels I have had the opportunity to engage in discussions with attorneys from many backgrounds and diverse practices on a number of subjects relating to the practice of law. Throughout these discussions, no matter the issue, there is one constant theme: Our society exists today, for better or worse, owing to the rule of law.

I was introduced to the rule of law very early in my upbringing. In a family with seven girls and three boys (my mother will tell you that she had ten only children) the line between chaos and order was fine indeed. The rule of law preserved order in our household. My parents were even-handed enforcers of the rule of law in our house. My father was a judge who sat on the bench for 17 years; while on the bench, his impartiality and fairness were unimpeachable. Out of necessity, at home he served simultaneously as a cop, defense lawyer, prosecutor, judge, and jury. My mother served as the sole justice of the appellate court. These early experiences provided me and my brothers and sisters with a healthy respect for the rule of law.

A more timely illustration of the rule of law is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Recently, ABA President-Elect Robert J. Gray Jr. visited Boston, providing me the opportunity to meet with him and other bar leaders to discuss the impact of the Brown decision on the education of our children. Boston, like so many cities in America, faced substantial issues surrounding the integration of its schools. Throughout the process lawyers were engaged on all sides of the debate, laboring diligently to uphold and preserve the rule of law that allowed Boston to work through this issue.

Today in Massachusetts the issue of same-sex marriage is being hotly debated. Our Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that gays and lesbians, pursuant to the Equal Protection provisions contained in the Massachusetts Constitution, have the right to be legally married. The Massachusetts legislature has now taken up the discussion surrounding the issue of whether or not there should be an amendment to our state’s constitution.

Lawyers provide the reasoned voices that articulate the thoughtful positions on all sides of the issue. Long after the debate is over, lawyers will be the ones who enforce the rule of law on this issue.

During two days of meetings in our nation’s capital a short time ago, another experience sharpened my focus on the rule of law. First Brigadier General Kevin M. Sandkuhler, Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, acted as my host during a visit to the Pentagon. I had the pleasure of speaking with him and other JAGs concerning the legal issues facing our military lawyers as they serve overseas as well as in the United States. Throughout the conversation it became apparent to me that military lawyers—even in the war-torn areas in which some serve—support and enforce the rule of law.

The next day I attended briefings with various members of Congress. After one of the briefings I had the opportunity to speak to Senator John McCain. We talked about his appointment by President Bush to the commission that is charged with reviewing the actions of administration personnel regarding information that led to our invasion of Iraq. Senator McCain told me that, quite simply put, the American people deserve to know the truth. That basic objective, in my opinion, supports the underlying concept that we, as Americans, support the rule of law.

Standing in stark contrast to the respect for the rule of law in our country, consider the upheaval and angst in Haiti and the chaos and violence in Iraq. Daily, horrific images and events reported in the news from Haiti and Iraq tell the story of what is at risk if the rule of law evaporates. Most people view these stories and images as a matter of keeping current on events. Lawyers should view these stories and images as a reminder of their importance in defending the rule of law in our country. Each new image of horror or story of anarchy should also inspire a renewed vigor among lawyers to protect the fine line between a society based on lawlessness and a society based on the rule of law.

The GPSSF section consists of approximately 26,000 lawyers and law students. Each member will have opinions on the issues that each of us face on a daily basis. My travels and conversations with Section members clearly demonstrate that we, as lawyers, have been and will continue to be the reasoned voice actively involved on all sides of these issues. As lawyers, we not only believe in the rule of law, we are its tireless guardians.



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