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With Legal Disputes Resolved, Move Forward

With Legal Disputes Resolved, Move Forward

Martha Barnett, President
American Bar Association

Americans clearly don't agree on everything, but there is certainly one thing on which we can all agree - there have been a lot of court rulings in this election.

Very few people, if any, agreed with all of the rulings. How could they? The rulings differed greatly. But the very strength of our government is rooted in the robust debate, and even disagreements, that our system under the rule of law was designed to peacefully accommodate. A weaker system would have descended into chaos long before the court of last resort had an opportunity to rule.

Yet even as we hear from those who strongly disagree with the recent Supreme Court decision, we hear no suggestion that the Court's decision should not be followed. As Laurence Tribe, the Harvard Law School professor who argued for Vice President Gore in an earlier case before the Supreme Court said, "I think the courts' place in our lives is such that we all should rally around even if we disagree with the results."

We must maintain the public's confidence and trust in the judiciary - as George Washington put it, "The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of democracy." Long after this presidency - and the next, and the next - our courts will face complex, divisive issues supported by compelling arguments on all sides, and will be called on to resolve them fairly, within the guidance of the law and the Constitution. Even when we disagree with a ruling, we respect and abide by it, knowing that the judiciary is our single best hope to ensure fairness in our dealings with one another and with our government. It is time for us to move on; but as we do, let us remember that the judges of this country - state and federal - have compiled an impressive record, and public surveys consistently suggest that the American people believe that, "In spite of all its problems, the American justice system is still the best in the world."

Perhaps the real test of our nation comes when we are the most divided. If so, this is one of the most difficult tests we have faced recently. A new USA Today survey reveals that 81 percent of Gore voters disagree with the Supreme Court's decision, while 93 percent of Bush voters agree with it. We should all join President-elect Bush in saluting America for being "able to resolve our electoral differences in a peaceful way." Will we overcome our divisions and maintain what is critical to the survival of our democracy - the public's faith in the integrity of its judiciary? I believe so. We have had legal disputes in the past and we will in the future, and when they are resolved both sides manage to go forward. And so we will manage again.