The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom

By William G. Schwab


It is just a piece of lambskin. Really not more than the size of the front page of the tabloid newspaper The National Enquirer. I could not understand a word of what was written in the unfamiliar Latin script.

There it lay under glass in the Cloister of the Salisbury Cathedral, inches from my touch. I never expected the effect it would have on me. I had made a pilgrimage to England to see the Magna Carta.

I had seen the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution before this excursion. They are great documents in law, but as I read a modern translation of the Magna Carta, I came to appreciate that all our freedoms began with a 12th Century bunch of royals who were turning against the King—rebels, in other words.

Freedom of religion. Trial before your peers. The right to confront the witnesses against you. No cruel and unusual punishment. The whole notation of due process. No one is above the law. All these rights arose from this little piece of lambskin.

Although it took centuries for these same liberties to be extended to the common person, today here in America they are. But will they remain?

This hit me particularly upon my return when I was working on a matter involving the Patriot Act. I had to ask long-time clients of mine for identification to prove they were not terrorists. I have to keep a copy of it on file for future reference should the government wish to check it later. I know we are in a war against terrorism. I know how I felt on 9/11, when I couldn't reach my daughter who was living two blocks from the White House that morning, but somehow I wonder if we are not giving up rights that took centuries to achieve in the name of national security. I believe there has to be a happy medium balancing both our national defense and our right to live without government interference. When it affects my relationship and how I deal with clients, has it gone too far?

I have no answer to this question. I think it is one that each of us must answer for ourselves. I just know I am uneasy about where we as a country are going in the name of fighting terrorism. It has made me more protective of our freedoms.

What do you think? I'd like to know.

Bill Schwab
Now learning the law for over 27 years

Note: This op-ed column reflects the viewpoints of the author. The views expressed here have not
been approved by the Section, the House of Delegates, or Board of Governors of the ABA


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