We live at a time when America’s fundamental values are under attack. As American lawyers, we’re deeply concerned about protecting the democratic institutions and principles that have enabled America to be the world’s preeminent beacon of freedom and opportunity.
As lawyers, we have the responsibility to defend the underlying constitutional values and norms of political behavior on which our democracy depends. 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 and principles. We must speak out.
Yet, we recognize that elections have consequences. This effort to energize and mobilize our legal profession is emphatically 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.
Specifically, we call on the President to respect and honor the following fundamental principles and norms of American democracy:
Independence, integrity and the critical role of mainstream media
An independent and watchful mainstream media is, and always has been, an essential component of American democracy.
Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of the judiciary
The independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of our judiciary is, and from the founding of our Nation has been, a central pillar of our democratic system.
Truthfulness of public officials
Our democracy is built on trust and telling the people the truth about public matters; the maintenance of that trust and Americans’ ability to make informed and rational public decisions require our leaders to provide honest, factual information to us all.
Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of federal criminal justice and intelligence agencies, including Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI
Nonpartisan independence, integrity and competence are critical to the fairness of our federal criminal justice system and intelligence agencies.
Civil discourse and fair treatment, including the respect for rights and the dignity of all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
Civil discourse and fair treatment, including respect for the rights and dignity of all individuals, is an essential ingredient of American democracy.
The President’s attacks on these core American democratic principles undermine the foundations of our Constitution and threaten the rule of law. 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. 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.
Fortunately, a group of prominent conservative lawyers has recently spoken out on many of these same issues through a new organization, “Checks and Balances.” Now, other members of the bar must no
longer remain silent.
We call on the leaders of America’s bar associations, law schools, law firms and fellow lawyers nationwide to speak out, on a nonpartisan basis, against these attacks on the core of our democratic constitutional form of government. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to uphold “the rule of law” and prevent “the law of rulers.” Wherever you live and work – in cities, towns, rural areas, suburbs – American democracy needs to hear your voice.
We list below the five fundamental principles and values of American democracy highlighted in our Open Letter to the President. Under each principle, we describe patterns or examples of behavior by the President that we believe constitute serious violations of these principles. The examples are not intended to be comprehensive and may be added to in the future.
Principle: Independence, integrity and the critical role of mainstream media.
Pattern of Violations:
Nevertheless, the President has labeled the mainstream news media that have earned our trust through decades of relentless, factual reporting as the “enemy of the American people!” and has repeatedly criticized reporting he dislikes as “Fake News.”
Principle: Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of judiciary.
Pattern of Violations:
Nevertheless, the President has criticized “our Court System” as “broken and unfair” and has pilloried the judges and decisions of an entire Federal Circuit as “[a] terrible, costly and dangerous disgrace.” He has publicly labeled a federal judge with whose decision he disagreed a “so-called judge”. And he sought to undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of another federal judge – who had ruled that the President’s immigration policy violated express statutory language – by calling him “an Obama judge.”
Principle: 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.
Examples of Violations:
Nevertheless, the President has said that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the murderous Charlottesville white nationalists’ demonstrations. He’s approved the removal of thousands of children from their immigrant parents, for extended time periods, and has publicly insulted several respected African-American female journalists.
Principle: Independence, integrity, competence and nonpartisanship of federal criminal justice and intelligence agencies, including Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI.
Examples of Violations:
Nevertheless, the President has attacked the DOJ for indicting Republican Congressmen for serious financial crimes because the indictments would harm the chances for reelecting Republicans. He has attacked and removed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for lack of personal loyalty, after having previously complained that: “I don’t have an Attorney General.”
He has accused the special counsel’s deliberate, professional, lawful investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election as the “rigged Mueller Witch Hunt!” And, he has rejected the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus finding of Russian interference in that election, because Vladimir Putin, the autocratic Russian President, told the President that there was no interference.
Principle: Truthfulness of public officials.
Examples of Violations:
Nevertheless, the President has repeatedly and demonstrably lied to the public about matters ranging from his personal entanglements to affairs of state. The Washington Post has documented more than 7,500 “false or misleading claims” by the President.