…. Pakistani Lawyers v. Police [WashPost photo}
If I wore one, I’d be taking my hat off this morning to the Pakistani lawyers who’ve been literally standing up by the thousands — despite the very real immediate risk of physical injury and arrest — “demanding an end to emergency rule and vowing to keep up their dissent until President Pervez Musharraf resigns.” “Lawyers Take On Musharraf” Thousands Demonstrate In Cities Across Pakistan” (Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2007) Also see, “Power of Attorneys” (Slate, Nov. 6, 2007); “Pakistan Fires Top Court, Lawyers Protest There and Elsewhere” (ABAJournalNews, Nov. 5, 2007); and, for direct perspective and news see the Pak Lawyer weblog (via UAlberta Law Faculty Blog).
In “Pakistan Attempts to Crush Protests by Lawyers” (Nov. 6, 2007), the New York Times reports today that:
“At one point, lawyers and police officers clashed in a pitched battle, with lawyers standing on the roof of the High Court throwing stones at the police below, and the police hurling them back. Some of the lawyers were bleeding from the head, and some passed out in clouds of tear gas.”
And WaPo exclaims:
“While some political opponents and rights activists also participated in the protests — the most significant since Musharraf declared emergency rule Saturday — it was the lawyers who dominated.”
NYT photo, via Daily Kos
How are American lawyers responding to the sight of their Pakistani brethren putting their backs into the effort, and their backsides at risk, for the cause of constitutional government? Mostly, it seems they are patting themselves on the back for being part of such a noble profession — often by whining about, or again misinterpreting, William Shakespeare’s famous quotation: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” [from King Henry VI, Part II, IV, ii]. See, e.g., Mark Cohen at the Minnesota Lawyer Blog; with “What Shakespeare really thought of lawyers;” Steve Day’s “First let’s kill the lawyers in Pakistan,” at his The Last Chance Democracy Cafe (Nov. 6, 2007); criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield at Simple Justce, “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers” (Nov. 6, 2007); and Legal Times Senior Editor Douglas McCollam, “When Liberty is on the line” (Nov. 14, 2007).
For the un-lawyered version of the meaning and context of Shakespeare’s JD-icide quote, see our post “Shakespeare and Lawyers: the Bar’s propaganda” (March 1, 2004), which rebuts the bar association party line that Shakespeare was celebrating the important role lawyers play in maintaining the rule of law and the fruits of civilization. The conversation between Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher is not a discussion on how to plot to win a rebellion against lawful government. Cade is proclaiming what he will do “when I am king.” In the context of the Cade and Tyler uprisings, lawyers were seen as protecting the privileged and corrupt establishment, as part of the resistance to needed social change and justice. For example, working for their masters, lawyers helped to return peasants to servitude or serfdom, by finding faults in deeds of manumission.
Whatever William Shakespeare actually felt about the legal profession, a good part of his audience would have enjoyed hearing Dick the Butcher’s idea for improving society once their rebellion was successful.
Pakistani lawyers are indeed acting to support the regime of constitutional law (a bit tardily, some might point out, since Musharraf has always been a military dictator). But, who in the USA would want to bet the ranch (or the Constitution) on the American legal profession putting itself on the line en masse? Which lawyers would be out there confronting the military police, risking a bloody head, a night in jail, and a blot on their resumes?
- Would it be the younger generation that seems to support civil disobedience in defense of justice, so long as you don’t actually get punished for it? The self-proclaimed idealists of Generation S, who mistake sedentary symbolic gestures (“slacktivism“) for activism? [see, e.g., this prior post]
- The graduates of our most elite schools, who almost always seem to choose the golden manacles, allied with big business, and take money over happiness and a balanced life?
- The psycho-babbling warriors who are leading the revolution against billable hours, but expect larger fees and higher profits for their efforts?
- The “consumer” and “justice” trial lawyers who will battle nasty businesses and tort-feasors as your champion, so long as you hand over one-third or more of your damages (no matter how little lawyering it takes to win)?
I’d love to think the Bar as a whole — as opposed to a relatively few activists who toil mostly at the fringes of the profession — would be leading the fight against tyranny here in the United States of America, but you’d have to be naive to expect it.
ABA President William Neukom did come out with a Statement yesterday urging “President Musharraf to rescind these actions immediately,” and noting that “shutting down a nation’s lawful institutions of justice will hurt, not help, the fight against terrorism.” But, even from a safe distance in America, Neukom and the ABA won’t even ask for civil disobedience, but instead call “on all governments, bar associations and other civil society organizations to support the rule of law, by using every peaceful, legal means to persuade President Musharraf to restore justice to the people of Pakistan.” “ABA President Neukom Urges Restoration of Justice to Pakistani People” (Nov. 5, 2007; emphasis added)
Although shanikka at Daily Kos also played on the Shakespeare-Kill-Lawyers theme yesterday (Nov. 5, 2007), I think she got it right: for the past seven years in the USA, it has “in large measure” been lawyers standing in the way of the current Administration trading in our Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism. Shanikka notes:
“Sure, here in America lawyers not yet literally sitting in the streets before a phalanx of military thugs, or pushing back against barricades being propped up by jack-booted military thugs, as they were in Pakistan in March, 2007 and are again today. But for the past seven years, lawyers have been in the courts, been in the blogs, and been in the forefront of fighting back, through the insistence on our Constitution and rule of law, against Bush’s own campaign to weaken our country’s Constitutional principles and our rights as citizens and non-citizens all in the name of his War on Terror.”
But, the profession cannot as a whole take credit for the work of a relatively few lawyers. Nor should it feel a lot of pride because so many lefty lawyer-webloggers have devoted so many pixels to skewering the Bush Administration. Recall, instead, (1) all those with law degrees who’ve offered knee-jerk defenses based more on political and ideological necessity than legal principle, and (2) all those who have said nothing and done even less.
Shanikka urges (emphasis mine):
“So the next time you get the opportunity hug a lawyer. Especially a public interest lawyer. She or he might just be the one who threatens to throw eggs someday if anyone tries here what they are (sadly) succeeding with in Pakistan right now.
So, don’t just hug a lawyer, or feel special pride as a lawyer, because the Pakistani legal profession is willing to put its bodies on the line to uphold its principles. I’m still betting that most American lawyers will talk a good game against tyranny, but — when push comes to shove — act to protect their wallets and future job prospects first. They’ll look a lot more like the targets of Shakespeare’s Cade Rebellion than like the revisionist heroes the bar associations like to talk about as the last great defenders of justice and the rule of law. Please, please, prove me wrong, Bar America, by sticking your neck out right now — no matter who you might offend — for the American Constitution.
(2 PM, Nov. 6) Michael Melcher at The Creative Lawyer, “Pakistan’s lawyers show us how it’s done” (Nov. 6, 2007), has a post worth reading. Among other things, he notes that the Pakistani lawyers don’t know how this will turn out, but are “doing what feels right for now;” points out that “in a chaotic situation, attention to basic principles — like a belief in the rule of law — can guide action;” and asks “Would I do the same? I don’t know. But I hope so.”
even on the little islands
………………………… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue
(7:30 PM EST): My often-missed weblogging friend George Wallace, posted a longer-than-usual piece this afternoon at his award-winning Fool in the Forest. Although he starts with a little Islamic-Lawyer/Buddhist-Monk joke, George gets serious about “a looming danger to our own Constitution,” that comes “armed not with teargas and truncheons or other obvious tools of tyranny, but with far more dangerous weapons: Good Intentions and Broad Bipartisan Support.” It’s H.R. 1955: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Echoing our cry above, George says:
[I]t is our role as lawyers to watch over our laws and to protect the Constitution that underlies those laws and the nation. If not on this issue, then on another: “stick your neck out right now — no matter who you might offend — for the American Constitution.”
update (Nov. 14, 2007): See our post “not impressed yet by US lawyers re Pakistan“
world of Buddha’s law–
even a dog on winter
world of Buddha’s law–
the snake strips
thus is Buddha’s law
in this world
float, sea slug–
Buddha’s law permeates
spreading as far
Buddha’s law and blossoms
………………………… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue