America's Lawyers Promote Justice at Home and Abroad
By Alfred P. Carlton Jr.,
President, American Bar Association President
The last few weeks have been historic and emotional for all Americans. As have the generations before us, we have seen our sons and daughters march into battle to bring freedom to an oppressed people half a world away. Moments like this remind us of both the privilege and the responsibility that goes with being an American.
America is, after all, more than a flag, or a geographic region, or pop-culture iconography. America is more than a government, or a President, or political parties. America is, first and foremost, a collection of values that seek only to unshackle the human spirit to the service of progress and justice.
These values exist at the heart of our democracy. They are the reason America shines as a beacon of hope around the world. They are the reason that, in working to rebuild Iraq, we must ensure that a nation so rich in tradition and culture emerges as a functioning democracy based upon respect for the rule of law.
The ingredients that constitute a society based on an enlightened rule of law are far easier to list than they are to foster. They include providing all citizens the opportunity to participate in the institutions that govern them, institutionalizing non-violent means of settling disputes, protecting the rights of women and minorities, promoting the development of a free market economy, and establishing confidence in business transactions through a respect for contracts and deeds.
Indeed, history teaches us that societies and governments built upon these values are more likely to protect the rights of their citizens, less likely to experience internal tumult, and less likely to engage in terrorist activity or precipitate costly and tragic regional conflicts. For this reason, ensuring that Iraq joins the community of nations is one of the most important tasks of our time.
Surely, the people of Iraq will face many challenges as they turn the page of their own history. America's lawyers stand ready and willing to help the Iraqi people--just as we did after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the fall of the Taliban, and in other post-conflict situations.
At the American Bar Association, we are marshalling American lawyers and their expertise to assist in this endeavor. Whether it is protecting the rights of women and minorities, fostering a vibrant and independent judiciary, or providing technical legal assistance to law development and courts, America's legal community can make a significant contribution to nations that need help after a long episode of abuse.
Appropriately enough, Law Day is now upon us--a day for all Americans to celebrate and reflect upon our democratic values. This occasion should remind us that, in addition to helping democratic values take hold overseas, we have a responsibility to defend them here at home as well.
This is why America's lawyers will continue to fight to preserve the independence of our own judiciary. Ensuring that our judges and courts remain immune to external pressure and influence is essential to ensuring that justice remains forever impartial. Politicizing the selection of judges, restricting their discretion in sentencing, and under-funding the courts is a recipe for injustice.
It is also the reason that America's lawyers work diligently to ensure that all Americans have unfettered access to the courts, that criminal defendants are afforded appropriate representation, that programs to provide legal services to the poor are preserved and fully funded, and that lawyer-client protections remain intact. These are all essential hallmarks of American justice, hallmarks that we, as lawyers, have sworn to uphold.
And they are the reason that today, on this Law Day in particular, we should all reflect upon the valuable role that we, as lawyers, play in promoting justice here and abroad. We should reflect, as well, on the blessings that all Americans share and on the importance of the rule of law in preserving those blessings. Having done so myself, I can honestly say that I've never been prouder of my profession.