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.
One of our classmates from Massachusetts, Scott Harshbarger, took note that in the formative years of our careers, Massachusetts and Boston lawyers and associations repeatedly led the charge. They triggered or partnered with others to lead the profession into the fray. This is our heritage, our opportunity, our obligation: to encourage and support efforts to reclaim that role and help lead the current fight to defend democracy.
During the reunion, the idea of lawyers signing and publishing an open letter to the President urging him to respect America’s core democratic principles was hatched. The day after, Scott and another classmate, Gary Ratner, called on concerned classmates to develop such a letter and reach out to their networks as fellow signers, as our first step in speaking out against the threat to democratic values.
We acted based on our shared understanding that as lawyers, we are advocates for and defenders of the profound, non-partisan, public interest in the rule of law. As America’s lawyers, we have a special responsibility to defend the core constitutional values and institutions that protect our democracy – to avoid a crisis in which, as Yeats noted, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
Accordingly, we organized a group we call Lawyers Defending American Democracy (LDAD). We have started by issuing and publicizing an Open Letter to the President and Congress setting forth key principles of American democracy that the President attacks. We call on lawyers nationwide to come to the defense of these core values.
In doing this, we greatly appreciate that there are other active groups of lawyers engaging in advocacy and litigation for this same purpose. Included is an eminent group of conservative, predominantly Republican, lawyers, Checks and Balances. We support their motto: “standing up for the principles of constitutional governance.”
Since we formed LDAD, our numbers have grown dramatically, spread to graduates of law schools all over the country and broadened in terms of overall diversity.
We simply 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.