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