Solidarity at the Sesquicentennial
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, those who know a little Shakespeare are fond of quoting, “The first thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers.” Those who know their Shakespeare a little better know that that line is uttered by Dick the Butcher, to his fellow rebels who are conspiring against the lawful government and contemplating squashing the people’s liberties.
Solidarity with Pakistani Lawyers
As I write these words, liberty and the rule of law are under attack in Pakistan. And the lawyers—and the judges—are indeed being arrested and silenced. On November 3, amid growing political turmoil, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf—acting in his military capacity—imposed martial law. He suspended the constitution, dissolved the supreme court, arrested the chief justice, and dismissed or arrested many other judges. The regime has purported to “replace” many judges with successor judges who are more loyal to the president.
On November 5, 2,000 Pakistani lawyers demonstrated at the Pakistan supreme court in protest of emergency rule. The media report that thousands of lawyers were arrested for demonstrating elsewhere in Pakistan—including the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan; and Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights lawyer associated with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, whose offices the police raided.
These recent developments follow on a disputed presidential election. President Musharraf sought reelection to the presidency this year, but opponents argued to the supreme court that he could not constitutionally serve both as head of state and as military chief. The court threw out some challenges, clearing the way for Musharraf’s reelection; but several other challenges remained. The protests continued. The president responded by declaring martial law, suspending constitutional democracy, and attacking the judiciary and the legal profession.
in the United States, and around the world, lawyers are being called
in an unprecedented fashion to respond. On November 14, over 100 Minnesota
lawyers turned out in the cold to rally on the steps of the Minnesota
Supreme Court in solidarity with our colleagues half a world away:
the lawyers and judges of Pakistan. On the same day, bar associations
nationwide showed support for restoration of the rule of law in Pakistan
through demonstrations in Washington, D.C., New York City, and other
This year and next, Minnesota celebrates its sesquicentennial: 150 years of statehood. On October 13, we marked the 150th anniversary of Minnesota voters ratifying our state constitution. Five months from now, on May 11, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Minnesota’s admission to the Union as the 32nd state. But with those anniversaries, we celebrate far more than history: we celebrate our living political heritage. A century and a half of constitutional government—a century and a half of individual rights—a century and a half of free elections, and of peaceful transfers of power.
Those facts are precious, rare, and fragile miracles. In every nation at some time, and in every era in some nation, even today, men and women have fought and died just for the dream of these facts whose reality we Americans take for granted. Throughout human history, only a few nations can claim any real experience with them at all, and none for as long as ours can. We know a little bit about disputed presidential elections from just seven years ago. But in 2000, despite five weeks of bitter partisan wrangling over those last precious few electoral votes, we—the whole nation—arrived together at a peaceful transfer of power on Inauguration Day. Without a life being lost, and without a shot being fired. All because we had enough faith in the rule of law, that we can settle even the deepest differences over the nation’s future with words and ideas and arguments, rather than with tanks … or guns … or fists. Imagine that process without lawyers.
An Independent Legal Profession
Our state and federal constitutions
establish a society based on the rule of law, the liberty of the individual, and equal access to justice—to each of which an
independent legal profession is essential. A world without lawyers
is a world without law, liberty, or justice. When you get rid of the
lawyers, you deprive innocent citizens of their right to a competent,
professional legal defense when the state accuses them of a crime.
You deprive businesses of their right to a professional advocate when
they deal with governmental regulators. You deprive consumers of legal
counsel regarding their rights when vastly more powerful organizations
take advantage of them, or injure them. You deprive the poor, the
have-nots, and the discriminated-against of a champion when they try
claiming their rights to their fair share of due
process, equal protection, and constitutional democracy.
BRIAN MELENDEZ is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association and a partner in the law firm of Faegre & Benson LLP. He received his undergraduate and law degrees cum laude, as well as a master’s degree in theology, from Harvard University. He is active in numerous professional, civic, and alumni organizations both locally and nationally.