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June 18, 2024

Deans from America’s law schools unveil joint letter in defense of democracy

CHICAGO, June 18, 2024 —The ABA Task Force for American Democracy unveiled a letter signed by more than 100 deans from America’s law schools concerning the training necessary for the next generation of lawyers to sustain our constitutional democracy and the rule of law.

In their letter, this distinct group of educators — charged with training our nation’s lawyers — affirms their commitment to preparing the next generation of legal advocates to uphold democracy and the rule of law. The message articulated by the deans urges students to champion the Constitution and the rule of law through avenues such as clinical work, public education and advocacy as well as makes a commitment on the deans’ part to teach our nation’s law students to disagree respectfully, be open to others’ arguments and engage across partisan and ideological divides.

Read the letter here.

“Today, our nation and world are at an inflection point,” ABA President Mary Smith said. “At home and around the globe, autocrats and dictators threaten the rule of law. Our democracy is under strain. A fundamental cause of this crisis lies in the fact that many of our citizens are not educated on the rule of law and the basic principles of our democratic republic. They take democracy for granted and fail to understand that its essential freedoms can easily be lost. Accordingly, the ABA Task Force for American Democracy is embarking on a widespread effort to improve civics education to reconnect U.S. citizens with our democracy, the rule of law and basic human rights principles. It is critical to take action steps with immediate impact that will lead our citizens to feel committed to our democracy.”

Smith, who created the task force at the start of her presidential term in August 2023, has concentrated on protecting democracy throughout her year. “This letter serves as a national call to action for our law schools and to remind the 1.3 million practicing attorneys in the United States of their duty to stand up for our democracy, protect the ethical standards of our profession with courage and professionalism, and to inspire the next generation of lawyers,” Smith added.

The deans’ letter comes amidst ongoing challenges and a growing sense of weariness that pervades the American public’s sentiment regarding our democratic systems. A recent Gallup poll reveals that only 28% of U.S. adults express satisfaction with the state of democracy in the country. One ray of hope, however, is that in 2022 a staggering 116,723 students enrolled in juris doctorate programs, according to the ABA Profile of the Legal Profession released last year. These students and the deans’ commitment herald a new era of legal advocates for the rule of law and our democracy.

The collaboration between the ABA Task Force for American Democracy and the deans of law schools underscores the imperative of confronting contemporary challenges and the importance of doing so through joint efforts.

“The nation's law schools play a critical role in training the next generation of lawyers and upholding the core values of our profession,” remarked Heather K. Gerken, Yale Law School dean and member of the task force. “Through our joint efforts as outlined in this letter, we hope to set an example for our students as we prepare them to carry our democracy forward.”

As the 2024 election approaches, law students are actively engaged in conversations about democracy, as seen by their attendance at the task force’s recent listening tour events in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“It is heartening to know that law school deans are embracing the support and defense of our democracy as part of a basic legal education,” said Task Force Co-Chair Jeh Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security. “This is not a partisan, political issue. It is Rule of Law 101. The next generation of lawyers must understand the challenges we face, take the torch we pass to them and continue the hard work to safeguard our democracy."

ABA Task Force Co-Chair Judge J. Michael Luttig said that “for the first time since our country’s founding almost 250 years ago, America’s democracy and rule of law are under existential threat. Every American citizen, but especially members of the legal profession, must stand up and speak out in defense and support of our democracy and rule of law.”

Luttig, a retired federal judge, stressed the legal profession’s importance in the process. “Lawyers are uniquely qualified and uniquely obligated by oath to support and defend America’s democracy and rule of law and they are being called to lead. They must answer this call,” Luttig stated. “The deans’ compelling letter of commitment underscores the indispensable role lawyers play in safeguarding and preserving our democracy, rule of law and our legal system. Whether by volunteer participation in the upcoming elections, pro bono legal services, policy advocacy or community engagement, I urge all lawyers to find ways to fulfill their professional obligation to preserve, protect and defend America’s democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law, consistent with the high tenets of the inspiring letter from the deans of America’s law schools.”

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on X (formerly Twitter) @ABANews.