Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lawyers to the Barricades

The next time someone starts insulting lawyers as hairsplitters who introduce complexity simply to enrich themselves as a class at the expense of their clients, I'll cite the example of Pakistan's lawyers, who have not merely joined the demonstrations against General Musharraf's emergency, but are leading the fight---at considerable and entirely predictable cost to themselves. British imperialism no doubt had its many flaws but one beneficial side effect was the transmission to former colonies (certainly including the U.S.) of a strong sense of the rule of law as a bulwark against tyranny. Notable examples of national leaders on the world historical stage who took their inspiration in part from their training as lawyers are Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. And both Gandhi and Mandela showed that commitment to justice through law was not incompatible with---and in extremis demanded participation in---mass social protest.

To be sure, unless some non-lawyers join the lawyers in the streets---and quite likely even if they do---the lawyer-led protests will not restore democracy and the institutions of civil society to Pakistan. The question will then arise whether Musharraf can find enough flunkies to do his bidding in the newly packed courts. I suspect the odds favor Musharraf. It took Nixon three tries to find Bork to fire Cox, but Richardson and Ruckelshaus were not first threatened with jail (or worse), as will be the case for attorneys and judges who don't swear allegiance to Musharraf and his emergency constitution. With the tools at his disposal, Musharraf may find a sufficiently large pool of cowed lawyers to keep the courts open to rubber-stamp his directives.

I'd like to think that if President Bush were to arrest a majority of the Supreme Court over a disagreement with a ruling regarding detainees, I'd be in the streets with other lawyers. At the very least, we lawyers who---whatever we think of the Bush administration---don't believe that he would attempt such a thing, should be offering our moral support to Pakistan's lawyers for standing up for the rule of law.

Posted by Mike Dorf


Caleb said...

I may just be ignorant about the existence of such an organisation, but the protests in Pakistan and the arrests made me think that it might be good to have an international organisation that highlights threats to lawyers around the world (much like you see periodical reports about journalists who have been killed, threatened, etc) and perhaps even helps to defend them? Given the clear universal popularity of lawyers, it might have to be organized by the legal community itself.

egarber said...

I have a question for any experts here on these developments:

Do we have a sense of who makes up the "militants" Musharraf is confronting? Are they mostly Taliban and Al Qaeda? Or maybe more importantly, are they militants at least partly *because* of Musharraf's power grab over the past few years? Even if the latter is true, do we really think they're looking for democracy?

Or maybe the arguments for democracy as a way to defeat militancy are more about bringing in moderates who can work to isolate extremists in tribal areas.

Ori H. said...

Members of the bar unite?
As positivism teaches us the law can be morally good or morally bad, and therefore in certain circumstances the rule of law may not necessarily be a good thing (I profess that I do not see much value in the mere ideal of the rule of law in and of itself). I am not claiming anything about the current crisis in Afghanistan and admit my ignorance in the matter. I only wish to point out that siding with lawyers is not like siding with doctors or social workers that, generally speaking, mostly promote the good. Lawyers often serve the worse laws and worse regimes. I see no justification for a priori siding with our “brethren at the bar” or for forming international organizations to protect the interests of lawyers as such.

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