More than 200 Attorneys Sign Open Letter to President; Urge Law School Deans, Bar Associations, Law Firm Leaders to Speak Out
BOSTON – More than 200 attorneys, including former federal and state judges, United States Attorneys, managing partners of large law firms, law deans and other distinguished lawyers from around the country, stepped forward today in an unprecedented effort to defend American democracy and the rule of law.
The attorneys authored an open letter demanding that President Donald Trump honor the fundamental principles, norms and values of our democracy.
“As lawyers, we have the responsibility to defend the underlying constitutional values and norms of political behavior on which our democracy depends,” the lawyers wrote in the letter, posted in full on the group’s new website. “These core values and principles include: the rule of law; institutional checks and balances; separation of powers; press freedom; truthfulness to the public; and the integrity of our system of justice.
“Accordingly, we, as lawyers, cannot ignore or remain silent about President Donald Trump’s disregard of these core values. We must speak out.”
Formed as Lawyers Defending American Democracy, the group seeks to raise the voices of lawyers around the country to push back against the President’s attacks on the courts, media and law enforcement agencies, as well as his repeated lying to the public and failure to respect civil discourse and peoples from all backgrounds.
The attorneys are being led by Scott Harshbarger, former national President of Common Cause and two-term Attorney General of Massachusetts.
Distinguished lawyers from all parts of the country – including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and California – have signed on to the open letter.
Among the well-respected attorneys signing on and serving as the initial steering committee for LDAD are: John T. Montgomery, former First Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and retired partner at Ropes & Gray LLP; Gershon M. (Gary) Ratner, Founder and Executive Director, Citizens for Effective Schools; former Associate General Counsel for Litigation U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Development; Fred M. Lowenfels, General Counsel Emeritus at Trammo, Inc., New York; Eugene R. Fidell, Counsel at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP, Washington, DC, and Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer at Yale Law School; Nicholas Fels, retired partner, Covington & Burling LLP; Stanley Marcuss, former counsel to the U.S. Senate’s International Finance Subcommittee, and current partner at Bryan Cave LLP in Washington D.C.; Fernande RV Duffly, Former Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; James F. McHugh, Former Associate Justice, Massachusetts Appeals Court; and Frederick Kellogg, former U.S. Attorney, Advisor to U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson
LDAD will be calling on members of Congress – especially those who are lawyers – to embrace the letter’s principles and call out continued abuse of them. Specifically, LDAD is calling on the leaders of the America’s national, state and local bar associations, law schools, law firms and fellow lawyers nationwide to speak out against the threats to our democracy
“We are sounding an overdue wake-up call to our elected officials but, above all, the allegedly independent, non-partisan profession we all share,” said Harshbarger, who is serving as President of Lawyers Defending American Democracy. “The general silence of and seeming acquiescence by, law firm, bar and law school leaders as well as elected law enforcement and legal officers, is absolutely deafening.”
With its letter, LDAD called on the President to respect and honor a set of five fundamental principles and norms of American democracy:
– Independence, integrity and the critical role of the mainstream media.
– Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of the judiciary.
– Truthfulness of public officials.
– Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of federal criminal justice and intelligence agencies, including the Department of Justice and FBI.
– Civil discourse and fair treatment, including respect for rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
“Unless challenged and checked, this pattern of disregard weakens the norms that underpin American self-government and invites unfettered Executive power – transforming the United States from a democracy to an autocracy,” the letter said. “As members of the legal profession, pledged to support the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers, we must not allow this to happen. Wherever you live and work, in cities, towns, rural areas, suburbs – American democracy needs to hear your voice.”
The letter emphasizes that it is “not about disagreements over Republican or Democratic policies, liberal or conservative ideology, or political party advantage. The values and principles threatened here go much deeper, and are much more important, than politics, policy differences and any politician’s self-interest. They’re the bedrock of our American, constitutional, democratic form of government for all times.”
Quotes from LDAD Steering Committee Members
Several respected signers offer media quotes about their involvement below and are available for further interviews.
“From Colonial times to the present, a free and vigorous press, willing and able to confront the powerful and voice a wide range of opinions, has been a crucial element of our society and of our system of government. The American press has angered politicians for centuries, as part of the exercise of the press freedom enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. But to characterize the press as ‘enemies of the people’ is to attack one of the basic tenets of democracy which keeps us free. It’s unobjectionable to disagree with press coverage, but to attempt to delegitimize reporters or news sources which disagree with you is beyond any acceptable norm. It also encourages tyrants around the world to suppress press freedom in their countries, to the detriment of peace and the world order.”
~ Fred M. Lowenfels, General Counsel Emeritus at Trammo, Inc., New York
“We have survived as a nation during challenging times because men and women were willing to stand up, speak out, and push back. Among the most vocal were lawyers, who have a special responsibility to promote the rule of law and to act as guardians of our constitutional guarantees of liberty and equal justice. As I have told many hundreds of graduating law students, newly admitted lawyers and law clerks, at the end of the day, the story of one’s life as a lawyer will be the story of the choices made along the path of your career. I feel privileged and obligated by my legal education and training to now speak out when the very bedrock of American democratic principles is at stake.”
~ Ferdinand RV Duffly, former Associate Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (retired); Visting Professor of Practice, Northeastern University School of Law
“For me, the most pernicious aspect of the current attacks by the President on the rule of … law is an underlying contempt [for] the truth, and the intentional efforts to suppress and distort our ability to discover the truth about what our government is doing, or not doing, and why. History teaches us that a successful democracy depends on its citizens having access to, and engaging constantly in a search for, the essential facts and other information necessary to inform actions by our government. I joined LDAD to help marshal and amplify the voices of lawyers on a bipartisan basis to speak knowledgeably and forcefully about the danger that our democracy faces from these attacks.”
~John T. Montgomery, former First Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and retired partner at Ropes & Gray LLP
“We cannot ignore the contempt, disregard and, especially, the dismissal of universal expectations of justice and fair and equal treatment under our fundamental principles of law.”
~ Ruth Ellen Fitch, retired partner, Palmer & Dodge; retired President/CEO The Dimock Health Center, Boston
“Lawyers have a special obligation to maintain democratic values and uphold the rule of law when it is under attack. This is no time for members of our profession, whatever their individual leanings or party affiliation, to sit idly by or remain tongue-tied. The issues the country is facing are profound and transcend mere politics.”
~ Eugene R. Fidell, Counsel at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP, Washington, DC, and Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer at Yale Law School
“Corruption in the broadest sense stalks the land. Self-enrichment, the idea that the media are enemies of the people, the spewing of lies, the name-calling, the treatment of compromise as a dirty word, the circumvention of congress, igniting the flames of hatred and so many other things that undermine the pillars of our democracy are stealthily becoming part of the norm. They are as destructive as rusting bolts on a railroad bridge that go unnoticed until the bridge itself comes tumbling down. As a deeply concerned patriot, I cannot remain silent.”
~ Stanley Marcuss, former counsel to the U.S. Senate’s International Finance Subcommittee, and current partner at Bryan Cave LLP in Washington D.C.
“The current administration’s transgressions go well beyond typical issues of policy and party. They implicate the fundamental principles and assumptions– for example, the independence of the judiciary and of the criminal-justice system– on which our democratic system of government rests. Some members of our profession, representing a variety of political persuasions, have already spoken out against these transgressions, but many more of us need to do so.”
~ Nicholas Fels, former partner, now retired, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, DC.
“When the American colonists revolted against Great Britain’s King George III and declared independence, they emphatically rejected being ruled by any king. Instead, as Lincoln so eloquently recognized, our forebears chose to have the United States be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people[.]” Ours is “a government of laws, not of men.” I’m intensely supporting LDAD and the Open Letter because I believe that key elements of President Trump’s words and behaviors constitute a threat to our democracy. As lawyers, we must forcefully remind the President of his fundamental responsibility to respect the underlying principles that enable our precious constitutional democracy to function.”
~ Gershon M. (Gary) Ratner, Founder and Executive Director, Citizens for Effective Schools; former Associate General Counsel for Litigation, U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Development; former Deputy Executive Secretary, U.S. Dep’t of Health, Education & Welfare