Washington Lawyer - January 2018 - 6
FROM OUR PRESIDENT
In Support of an Independent Judiciary:
mong my hopes as we enter the New Year is that we restore some of the now-corroded
respect for the independence of our third branch of government. Our judges have customarily
enjoyed insulation from personal invective, but lately, conscientious judicial determinations
have too often been criticized as partisan or biased.
Countless times in our history, political and social leaders who have been defeated in the courts
have nonetheless dutifully acceded to court rulings without questioning the integrity or motives
of the judges who ruled against them. In March 1963, two days after the march on Bloody Sunday
in Selma, Alabama, was thwarted by state troopers, Martin Luther King Jr. and a contingent of civil
rights activists strode again to the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with the intent of continuing
on to Montgomery. But U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. had enjoined future marches
pending his assessment of attendant legal issues. King, despite the fervent marchers on his heels,
knelt for a moment of prayer, then quietly retreated. He voiced no criticisms of Judge Johnson or
the legal system.
In July 1974, President Richard Nixon suffered a defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court that triggered the
end of his presidency. In a unanimous decision, the Court ordered Nixon to turn over his incriminating Oval Office tapes. Nixon did not lambaste the justices, condemn the legal system, or flout
the Court's ruling. He expressed his "disappointment" but acknowledged he would comply. Two
weeks later, he resigned.
system is not
but it is the
envy of broken
In December 2000, the Supreme Court decided another epic court battle in Bush v. Gore, which
foreclosed further Florida recount litigation and doomed Al Gore's pursuit of the presidency. Gore
conceded defeat in televised remarks. Far from griping about the justices, the Court, or the legal
system, Gore took the high road: "Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching
resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully
and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are
disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country."
In today's turbulent and polarized times, our leaders (including those at the highest levels of government and in both major political parties) have too often sought to destabilize the rule of law by questioning the integrity, competence, or impartiality of our judiciary simply because they - or their side
of the argument - did not prevail in court, and by insisting that only candidates with a particular
judicial philosophy or law society pedigree can be considered for service on the bench.
We lawyers know that a faith shared by counsel and parties alike in the independence and integrity
of our judiciary is critical to maintaining the rule of law. Our justice system is not without flaws, but
it is the envy of broken societies around the globe. Our obligation, therefore, is to be vigilant against
those who attack our system or its judges for tactical advantage, and to be vocal in support of
a dispassionate and independent judiciary.
Photo: Patrice Gilbert Photography
* JANUARY 2018