“Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. God will help us, and the day will come when you will see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.”
–Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudry, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan
A man in a tailored suit, surrounded by a cloud of tear gas, hurling something at police. Mobs of hundreds of lawyers surrounding a jury-rigged loud speaker so that they can hear the revolutionary message of a deposed Chief Justice under house arrest: “rise up and spread the revolution of the rule of law!” Given our view of lawyers in popular culture today, these images seem surreal, almost comical. Lawyers? Rising as the bulwark of democracy and the rule of law? Aren’t lawyers about preserving the status quo and circumventing the law? Who can forget the cheering crowds when a giant Tyrannosaurus ate the smarmy lawyer in Jurasic Park as he fled to hide in the port-a-john? Or the lawyers as “ambulance chasers.” I have a friend and fellow progressive who would never consider voting for John Edwards because he was a plaintiff’s lawyer, even if he was about suing mammoth corporations to hold them accountable for shafting otherwise defenseless citizens. So when we see lawyers standing before armed soldiers with guns, shouldn’t we be cheering for the soldiers? After all, how many times have I heard that what you call 100 dead lawyers is “a good start?”
But ’twas not always so. Consider a different time, when lawyers like John Adams, or serious legal philosophers such as Benjamin Franklin, believed that the rule of law was a matter to die for. As one of their number so aptly put it:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
And indeed, listed as the first grievance against King George:
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
Law, law, law — the Rule of Law. And of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 24 were lawyers while several others, such as Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin, had extensive knowledge and experience of the law and it practice.
It has been a long time since lawyers in this country rose in revolution to defend the Rule of Law against the encroachment of a tyrant bent on establishing the direct rule of one man. In the interim lawyers have not been idle in the defense of freedom. But even the lawyers who have forsaken profitable careers in private practice to pursue the goals of social justice or defend indigent defendants because the rule of law depends on providing a vigorous and zealous defense to everyone accused still live lives of relative comfrt and security. We forget, in a country where the rule of law has remained settled for so long we take it for granted. (If anything, we take it perhaps too much for granted, and have come to pay for our complacency.) When I speak to other activists around the world, I am reminded that people like me are “disappeared” or arrested on a regular basis. And that what protects me is that the respect for the rule of law is so deeply embedded in all of us that the idea that the industrial interests I opposed would have me killed seem like bad fiction. But for many lawyers and other social activists around the world, it happens all the time.
So I am reminded by my brothers and colleagues of the bar in Pakistan once again of the value of the Rule of Law as a bulwark against violence and tyranny. I salute those who could live comfortably off the status quo and drift with the wind of the regime, who instead rise to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. And while I hope I never come upon such a “time of sacrifice,” I also hope that I — and perhaps others as well — can appreciate why the rule of law remains a cause to inspire and thing to defend.
Stay tuned . . . .