Democracy and the rule of law seem to be in retreat throughout the world: not only in Iran, Russia, and Hong Kong but also in countries such as Mexico, Poland, and Hungary.
Freedom House is a U.S.-based independent watchdog organization that champions the advancement of freedom and is dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy globally. It is known for its nonpartisan character and bipartisan support.
The organization’s most recent annual report states that “in every region of the world, democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power to advance the particular interests of their supporters, usually at the expense of minorities and other perceived foes.” Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2022: The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule. According to this report, in 2021, democracy and the rule of law continued to erode around the world. This marked the 17th consecutive year of overall decline, leaving the number of countries that are designated as democracies at its lowest point in the history of the report.
But what about here at home in the United States? How are we weathering the challenges of the past several years? What is the condition of our democracy and do we continue to be committed to maintaining the principles that underlie the rule of law?
This past summer, State Bar of Wisconsin President-elect Dean Dietrich and I participated in a program at the National Association of Bar Presidents’ Conference titled “How Bar Associations Can Advance the Rule of Law Now.” The program focused on how the legal profession can lead the way in promoting civics, civility, and collaboration to restore confidence in our democratic institutions and the judicial system and to protect the rule of law.
In an increasingly polarized society, it is not clear how best to accomplish this goal without veering into partisan or ideological waters. And yet, it seems to me that lawyers are in a unique position to support and defend an independent judiciary; fair, open and unfettered elections; a free press; and fidelity to our nation’s constitution and laws.
What role should the State Bar play in promoting a more informed citizenry, encouraging collaboration in our political discourse, and working toward supporting and strengthening an independent judiciary? What role should you, as an individual member of the bar, play in furthering these efforts? I cannot answer these questions for everyone. It is up to you and the individuals you have elected on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors to determine the best path forward.
I encourage you to share your thoughts. Drop me an email, and I’ll make sure to share them with your elected State Bar representatives. Democracy is not a given but something each new generation must commit itself to by supporting, defending, and nurturing its continued existence.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 9 (November 2022).