During the 50th Reunion of the Harvard Law School Class of 1968 last fall, two presentations urged lawyers to speak out about the challenges to our democracy resulting from the current assault on the rule of law by our Chief Executive. Many classmates expressed dismay at President Donald Trump’s widespread and seemingly intentional efforts to erode public confidence in the core tenets of our democracy and law enforcement institutions.
We were challenged to compare the polarizing events of 1968 with those of today. In both eras, separated by half a century, the basis for our civil society was assaulted: then, from violent attacks on national leaders; now, from a more subtle attack on the norms of American democracy.
In an essay for the reunion, Scott Harshbarger argued that the President was aggressively undermining the rule of law and other fundamental principles, norms and institutions of American democracy. He expressed dismay at the deafening silence of law firms, law schools and elected legal leaders in failing to speak out against these assaults. And he called especially on his fellow lawyers and the legal profession itself to condemn these attacks to seek to prevent “the rule of law” from becoming “the law of the ruler.”
Early in the reunion, Scott was approached by another classmate, Gary Ratner, who said he strongly supported Scott’s essay. Responding to the concern Scott had expressed that law firms, law schools and bar associations were unwilling to speak out on these issues, Gary urged they bypass these institutions by creating a bottoms-up group of individual lawyers, not subject to the constraints of the institutions, to speak out. As a vehicle for doing that, Gary recommended the creation of an Open Letter signed by lawyers around the country condemning the President’s attacks and urging him to respect America’s core democratic principles. With vital support from law school classmates and other colleagues, this led to the founding of Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD).
With LDAD, we hope to amplify and sustain this goal: to stand and deliver a message from the legal profession that, whatever your political and policy views, there is a center of core constitutional, legal and democratic principles and values that must hold in order to preserve our priceless American freedoms and democracy.
We believe that that center is being systematically challenged. We believe that we, as lawyers, are uniquely qualified and responsible for ensuring that it is understood, viable, defended, alive and well. To that end, we have created Lawyers Defending American Democracy as one vehicle our colleagues might consider to achieve that goal.
If you currently are, or previously were, a member of the Bar, we encourage you to follow and join our activities by signing up for our mailing list (form in the footer). You may also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you – and keep the faith.