For the last five years I have used this space for the promotion of State Bar programs, products, and services. I guess that’s appropriate, given that the column is labeled “Your State Bar.”
But you have also graciously allowed me the opportunity to use this as a forum to share my thoughts on a wide range of issues, including civility in public discourse; the need for proactive steps to address systemic racism; and the importance of active participation, through voting and advocacy in our great democracy.
But there is clearly something more fundamental at play in our world. The rule of law itself, the concept of free and democratically elected governments, the human rights of expression and political thought and a free press: All are under brutal and violent attack.
I find it hard right now to even begin to write about another product, program, or service, while democratic governments, institutions, and an entire population of people are being decimated.
We have all watched in horror the tragedy in Ukraine. Like you, I have felt a sick feeling of helplessness as millions of adults and children have fled the senseless bombing of homes, schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods.
But there is something we can all do. As I write this, relief agencies of all stripes from around the globe are pulling together to help bring food, shelter, and clothing to millions of Ukrainian refugees, as well as those remaining in their cities, towns, and villages. The need for our individual and collective financial support is immediate. Dozens of credible nonprofit organizations are working together to bring relief. I urge you to pick one and support its efforts.
For me, the events of the last few years have shown that we should not take our own democracy for granted. There are rights to defend, free and unfettered elections to ensure, common ground to be found, and public institutions to support.
As a non-lawyer, I look to the legal profession to lead the way, as the guardians of the rule of law, defenders of our democratic institutions, champions of equal justice, and protectors of human and legal rights.
One often-quoted line from William Shakespeare (act IV, scene 2 of Henry VI, Part 2) is, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” While this line might provide a harmless chuckle during a performance, it is no laughing matter that lawyers, along with teachers, religious leaders, and local elected officials, often are targeted first when brutal dictators seek to destroy a society to ensure compliance with their own demands. Legal communities are the collective Atticus Finch standing between those in need of defense and senseless mobs and oppressors.
No matter your area of practice, know that every day, society relies on you to ensure we are all treated equally under the law. You are vital to a stable and free society because you are democracy’s first line of defense.
I look to the legal profession to lead the way, as the guardians of the rule of law, defenders of our democratic institutions, champions of equal justice, and protectors of human and legal rights.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 12 (May 2022).