Law Day: The Great Equalizers
Recently, Pope Francis tweeted: “Inequality is the root of social evil.” I would like to go a little further and suggest that in the United States, lawyers are the great equalizers. Our Constitution was drafted, in part, by lawyers seeking to avoid the dangers of a monarchy and an overzealous government. Our Bill of Rights makes us unique and gives us not only rights, but responsibilities. In his speech at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910, then former President Teddy Roosevelt, speaking most eloquently about the duties of citizens in a democracy, said, “To you and your kind much has been given, and from you much should be expected . . . no self-respecting individual, no self-respecting nation, can or ought to submit to wrong.”
Today, in this time of 24 hour news and 24/7 Internet bombardment of opinion and disinformation, there must be guardians of truth. Our Constitution sets forth the framework for finding the truth with rights, including but not limited to, free speech, due process of law, equal protection, counsel in criminal matters, and protection from illegal search and seizure. But this precious framework is worthless unless we have champions willing to stand in the breach and cry foul when these rights are abridged, either individually or against society as a whole. The list of legal championships is long, and in the history of the world unique to the United States of America: Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, and Gideon v. Wainwright are just a few examples. Each case was championed by a lawyer, who was not afraid to seek truth, justice and equality.
Just this week, the owner of the L.A. Clippers was banned from the NBA and fined $2,500,000.00 because of racist statements he made in a private conversation. The NBA may now try to take away his ownership of the team. Notwithstanding the despicable nature of his comments, the issue may come down to whether a citizen may be deprived of property as a result of a surreptitious private recording of his speech. He has the means to hire an army of lawyers to protect his property rights. But what about the aggrieved single mom who can’t support her family because of a deadbeat dad, the falsely accused indigent, or the individual who is the subject of racial, gender, age or religious discrimination? Who will take their cases? Most likely, it will not be an army of lawyers hired by a multimillionaire. No, it will be a solitary lawyer who takes seriously his or her oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of this State and of the United States . . . and to assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens. . . .” President Abraham Lincoln knew the trials and tribulations of a lawyer seeking justice, truth and equality. These lessons he learned so well were the foundation for his quest for equality for all Americans. Speaking on the issue of equality and the framers of the Constitution, he stated, “They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all – constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and, even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, everywhere.”
I know of no greater honor in civilian society than the privilege of representing a client in pursuit of truth, equality and justice. We lawyers must always be willing to stand in the breach between lies and truth, injustice and justice, and inequality and equality. So, on this Law Day 2014, take stock in the words of Pope Francis, President Lincoln, and President Teddy Roosevelt. In our society, we lawyers are the great equalizers and we must fight social evil by “constantly” laboring for equality. If he were alive on this Law Day 2014, I think that President Roosevelt would be telling us: The credit belongs to the lawyer who is actually in the courtroom… who strives valiantly; who errs… who comes short again and again… who does actually strive to do the deeds…. who knows great enthusiasm… who spends himself or herself in a worthy cause… who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he/she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his/her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
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