Monday, August 25, 2008

A Nation of Laws (and Lawyers)

Are attorneys always agents of revolution?

When Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf stepped down last week, there were lawyers to blame. Hundreds of counselors clad in courtroom attire, black suits, white shirts and power ties, took to the streets last winter to protest the Islamic leader’s heavy-handed dismissal of that nation’s Supreme Court Justice. What a grand sight to see the barristers clamoring at the barricades, pulling down barbed wire and chanting “Go, Musharraf, go!”

I was reminded that legally trained minds also made America’s revolution. Of the fifty-five delegates from twelve states who participated in our country’s Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, a solid majority were lawyers.

That explains why our nation’s framers were so enamored with the concept of “contract.” Contract is a cornerstone of legal theory–required of every first year law student.

Society, our framers held, was based on a reciprocal, legal agreement among its members. According to social contract theory, government comes into being when free agents enter into mutual compact with each other. Each individual agrees to cede a limited portion of his or her own personal freedom to the sovereign or central power in exchange for the order and stability that comes from living under a nation of laws.

There was not a clergyman among the delegates in 1787. None claimed that government originated from God, or that laws were enjoined by holy writ. Rather, just authority derived from the consent of the governed ... from “we the people,” in the immortal phrase of the Constitution’s preamble. Those were lawyers talking.

Isn’t it time Americans regained respect for the rule of law? Our current president (the latest King George) has claimed on numerous occasions that his power and judgment derive from the Almighty. He has overridden the will of Congress repeatedly with “signing statements, ” flouting legislation intended to constrain executive hubris. He has ignored international treaties that prohibit torture, including the Geneva Conventions.

Perhaps lawyers in the U.S. should follow the example of the brave barristers of Pakistan, and of our own founders. Lawyers arise! More than a verdict or jury award is at stake. Our character as a nation of laws is on trial.

1 comment:

Chuck B. said...

Unfortunately our media is run by those who find the rule of law pesky. Writers who feel lawyers take advantage of them, Producers who feel lawyers keep them from kaing a profit and advertising moguls who consider lawyers a restriction on their goals.