January 27, 2021 Chair's Column

Chair's Column: January 2021

Peace and Freedom in the New Year

By Michael J. Van Zandt

Happy New Year Everyone!! I hope 2021 treats us all better than last year.

In the midst of our continuing COVID-19 pandemic, our nation suffered a tremendous insult and assault when a despicable mob of people desecrated the United States Capitol by invading not only the building itself, but forcing the Senate and the House of Representatives out of their sessions to confirm our duly elected next president. They penetrated the floors of the House and Senate and forced our elected leaders and their staff to flee in search of shelter. Lives were lost, including a Capitol police officer who was protecting the building and the people who serve our nation, a terrible loss. The mob stole laptops and podiums and documents related to our governance. No matter what the motivations or intentions of this rabble, there is no justification, excuse, or defense for such reprehensible conduct. We, as lawyers, are bound by oath to uphold the Rule of Law, and it is part of our responsibility to condemn these actions and to support law enforcement in the prosecution of these individuals.

No matter what your party affiliation, our democracy is built on the concept of E Pluribus Unum, One from Many. None other than Founding Fathers John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin created this as the United States’ motto in 1782 to be placed on The Great Seal of the United States. The motto has been interpreted to mean that from thirteen colonies, one nation is formed, but another interpretation has it meaning that from all the individuals in the United States, we have unified into "one nation under God with liberty and justice for all." President Ronald Reagan famously said,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

Freedom has many forms, but perhaps our most cherished freedom is freedom of speech. This is where we respect the right of all to speak their minds freely without intimidation and recrimination where liberals and conservatives may freely debate the important issues of the day and seek the common ground that makes us a united nation. Just as there is no room for violence and law breaking to express one's ideas, there is no room for the stifling of ideas by censorship, intimidation, or removal from social media. Just imagine what the result would have been if there had been effective censorship of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin at the birth of our nation. Along with protecting the Rule of Law, we, as lawyers, must work diligently and persuasively to protect freedom of speech, no matter the form. Without freedom of speech, we are doomed, as President Reagan said, to leaving our children and grandchildren with the distant memory of democracy.

We, as Senior Lawyers, must denounce any act by any group that infringes on our freedom, but especially we must denounce any attempts to control the minds and thoughts of our young people by those who believe that censoring ideas is the road to a better world. It is not and cannot be tolerated. Our task is to find ways to unite the country and every person who lives in this country. Only then can we fulfill the words of our Founding Fathers, E Pluribus Unum.

I hope year 2021 brings you peace, health, and freedom!!

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Michael J. Van Zandt is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. He is the current Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division; a representative for the ABA SLD to the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.