January 10, 2020 Feature

Protecting Democracy—We Can Do Better

The Standing Committee on the American Judicial System fits perfectly with the Section of Litigation's mission of advancing education about, and defense of, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.

Barbara J. Dawson

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Earlier this year, I heard Justice Anthony Kennedy recount that he had reread Plato and Aristotle because it has always irritated him that they gave a low grade to democracy. The philosophers held this view, he explained, because they thought that democracy did not have the capacity to mature. He added that “it is our destiny to prove them wrong,” and he encouraged us to do a little better than we have so far. As the leadership of the Section of Litigation, we intend to help with that, recognizing that we are the champions for the third branch. And we invite all who are interested to join us. As a centerpiece for this year, we welcome the ABA’s Standing Committee on the American Judicial System into the Section of Litigation. It fits perfectly with our mission of advancing education about, and defense of, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.

We see this mission as particularly important—right now—as our country faces such serious issues and an upcoming election cycle. We are fortunate to have this committee under the incomparable leadership of the Honorable Lorna Schofield, Laurence Pulgram, and Alan Kopit.

The committee has defined its focus as not only defense of the rule of law and independence of the judiciary but also advancement of the relationship between lawyers and the media to increase public education about the third branch of government. This committee stands on a strong base built over the course of many years under the past leadership of Alan Kopit along with Shira Scheindlin, Dick Semerdjian, and Herbert Dixon, and so many other lawyers and judges dedicated to this mission.

The resources already available range from significant works of thought leadership related to the rule of law to practical materials such as a guide for lawyers entitled Rapid Response to Fake News, Misleading Statements, and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary. I would encourage all to review and use these tools, accessible on the ABA Section of Litigation’s website under Standing Committee on the American Judicial System.

The projects of this committee align so well with the mission of the Section of Litigation because we appreciate that respect for the independence of the judiciary is core to the success of our system, and well worth protecting. We rightfully expect our judges to act with independence, and when they do and they face fire, we can speak when our judges cannot. We encourage all to use our voices in the defense of the judiciary, as it is the defense of our democracy.

We hope to meet Justice Kennedy’s challenge to do better—and we can use the assistance of lawyers and judges in communities, large and small, across the country. When it comes to the defense and advancement of our American judicial system, the rule of law, and democracy itself, we take on this project with pride—and we ask you to please join us.

Barbara J. Dawson

The author is chair of the Section of Litigation and a partner with Snell & Wilmer, in Phoenix.


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