To Lawyers concerned about our democracy and to the American people:
America’s democracy depends on truth, law and civility. As American lawyers, we stand up for those values when they are attacked. Our national political leaders must tell the truth, so the American people know what the facts are to evaluate proposed public policies and politicians’ behavior to hold their politicians accountable. Adherence to the Constitution, laws and fundamental, American democratic principles and norms is essential to the fair and effective functioning of our government. It enables the people’s elected legislators to determine the rules under which we live and to prevent abuse by any official. Civil treatment of all people by government officials is essential to the American creed that “all men are created equal,” the core American belief in the dignity of each person.
Since February 2019, 550 members of the Bar have signed an open letter to the President and Congress expressing our concerns that the President had seriously violated specific principles embodying these values. The signers include 30 acting and retired judges, 70 former or present law professors (including 7 present or former law school deans), 85 present or former senior government executives (including federal and state elected legislative officials and 17 former State Attorneys General or Assistant Attorneys General), 90 law firm partners or shareholders, including 15 heads of law firms, and 10 Bar Association officers. Our goal was to encourage the President and Congress to take steps to assure adherence. Instead, we have seen continued violations. These include:
- Separation of powers/checks and balances
The President has engaged in a wholesale, historically unprecedented refusal to obey congressional subpoenas and document requests – in more than 20 investigations – in disregard of Congress’s broad constitutional oversight and legislative powers over the Executive branch.
- Rule of law
The President sought to interfere with the lawful investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Based on evidence in the Mueller Report, more than 1,000 former U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors unanimously stated that this interference “would result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice” against anybody other than “a sitting President[.]”
- Independence, integrity and the critical role of mainstream media
The President has continued to attack unjustifiably the mainstream media as being the “Enemy of the People” and presenting “Fake News”, when he dislikes what they’ve reported about him. Moreover, he escalated his attacks by accusing The New York Times of having “committed ‘a virtual act of treason’” – although, pre-publication, his administration had said that the story raised no “national security concerns[.]” And he repeatedly publicized “an online effort that urges people to stop believing mainstream reporting about him [.]”
- Truthfulness of public officials
The President’s repeated assertions that the Mueller Report resulted in his “complete and total exoneration” are false. The Report itself explicitly states “it…does not exonerate him [of obstruction of justice.]” Likewise, the President’s statement that the Mueller investigation was an “illegal and treasonous attack on our Country” is demonstrably untrue. Moreover, making a mockery of the long-recognized presidential duty to be truthful to the American people, President Trump has now made more than 12,000 “false or misleading claims.” (According to the Washington Post)
- 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 incivility are numerous. The President attacked four congresswomen of color, saying they should “go back [to] the crime infested places from which they came [.]” (Three of them were born in America; the fourth is a naturalized citizen.) He praised as “incredible patriots” those in his rally crowd who chanted “Send her back!” The President accused a majority black Baltimore congressional district – represented by a leading black congressman – of being a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess”, one where “[n]o human being would want to live [.]” (The district has a higher proportion of college graduates than the national average and “a median household income of about $60,000 [.]” At a political rally, the President smiled as “thousands cheered” that the way to stop immigrants from coming across the Mexican border is to “Shoot them.”
We understand that in America’s political system, advancing a party’s policy and political agenda and taking actions to support one’s own reelection are legitimate values. Indeed, they’re the daily grist of a politician’s mill – what might be called “operational values.”
However, these operational values cannot be the ones to which American politicians give ultimate loyalty. Rather, American politicians owe their highest loyalty to upholding the values of truth, law and civility on which the Constitutional oath and America’s whole democratic system stand – what might be called “systemic values.”
Accordingly, where a conflict arises between serving operational values of political self-interest and the systemic values that are central to preserving American democracy itself, American politicians’ duty is always to honor the systemic values.
The alternative approach – flouting key constitutional powers of Congress; obstructing justice; attacking public trust in mainstream media; lying to the American people; attacking in personal terms congress- people of color and their communities – is the road to destroying constitutional checks and balances and the people’s ability to hold their President accountable – the road to autocracy.
Our nation has faced crises before. But those were due to extreme conditions in the external world. We looked to the President to pull us together and pull us through. By contrast, today, it is the President’s behavior itself which presents a grave threat to America’s democratic values.
As American lawyers, we are pledged to uphold the systemic values of truth, law and civility on which America’s priceless constitutional democracy and freedoms rest. These values limit all American political leaders including, preeminently, the President. We speak out in support of those values and that system, to encourage all in our nation to act to protect and defend American democracy. Lawyers throughout the nation must mobilize to stop the President’s predatory attacks on these fundamental values.
Please join the hundreds of lawyers throughout the country who have signed onto the Open Letter.
The Steering Committee, Lawyers Defending American Democracy
Dated: September 5, 2019
Scott Harshbarger, Chairman
Fernande R.V. Duffly
Ruth Ellen Fitch
Carmen F. Francella
Fred M. Lowenfels
Stanley J. Marcuss
John T. Montgomery
Gershon M. (Gary) Ratner