If US lawyers are marching in the streets in support of the rule of law in Pakistan, why aren't we marching in support of the rule of law here?
- The Honorable Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, in a speech before the Federal Bar Council, November 21, 2007
We have all seen over the past couple of months pictures of brave lawyers in Pakistan risking their careers and even their own health and safety to stand up for their nation's constitution. At the same time, we are witnessing at home a similar - if not quite as acute - assault on our own Constitution by the Bush administration. Yet we have not seen a coordinated movement of lawyers in defense of the Constitution in this country.
It seems like this is about to change. The American Freedom Campaign, in conjunction with the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Alliance for Justice, has launched a campaign called "American Lawyers Defending the Constitution" (ALDC). Conceptualized just last month, the campaign has already brought together scores of law professors and other prominent lawyers, including Governor Cuomo.
Overall, more than 700 lawyers and law students have signed on to the campaign's first project - a sign-on statement to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, calling for hearings to investigate unconstitutional and potentially criminal activities by the Bush administration.
We are pushing to have more than 1,000 lawyers and law students sign the statement before it is released later this week. With that kind of backing, we can open some eyes in Washington and help congressional leaders realize that they are not fighting a partisan battle in Washington; they are fighting for the survival of our Constitution.
If you are a lawyer or a law student, please take a moment to sign the statement - which is included at the end of this post - by clicking on the following link:
If you are not a lawyer or law student, please email this post to any friends, colleagues, or family members who are. And encourage them to do the same.
The need for this kind of leadership from lawyers in this country has never been greater. From wiretapping to torture to extraordinary rendition, the Bush administration has ignored and disrespected our Constitution and our laws. It is time for someone to hold them accountable.
In particular, we need members of Congress to appreciate their constitutional duty to defend the nation against an overreaching executive branch. Upholding this duty requires them to move forward in both chambers with contempt citations against Bush administration officials - including chief of staff Josh Bolten, former White House counsel Harriett Miers, and former deputy chief of staff Karl Rove - for defying congressional subpoenas. Urging action on these contempt citations will be an immediate and primary focus of the "American Lawyers" campaign.
When a nation's leader suspends the constitution - as President Musharraf did in Pakistan last month - the need for protest is urgent and obvious. But when a nation's constitution is slowly undermined and its value gradually diminished, it is more difficult to stir the passions of citizens. We are faced with that situation in the U.S. today and it is time for the legal community to rise up in defense of the rule of law.
As Governor Cuomo said in the same speech mentioned at the top of this post, "There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. This is the time for lawyers to speak."
We hope all lawyers and law students will make their voices heard.
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The ALDC sign-on statement:
Message to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy from American Lawyers Defending the Constitution
We are lawyers in the United States of America. As such, we have all taken an oath obligating us to defend the Constitution and the rule of law from those who would violate and subvert them, and to hold wrongdoers accountable.
We believe the Bush administration has committed numerous offenses against the Constitution and may have violated federal laws. Evidence exists that it has illegally spied on Americans, tortured and abused men and women in its direct custody, sent others to be tortured by countries like Syria and Egypt, and kept people in prison indefinitely with no chance to challenge the bases of their detention. Moreover, the administration has blatantly defied congressional subpoenas, obstructing constitutional oversight of the executive branch.
Thus, we call on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to launch hearings into the possibility that crimes have been committed by this administration in violation of the Constitution, federal statutes, and international treaties. We call for the investigations to go where they must, including into the offices of the President and the Vice President. Should these hearings demonstrate that laws have in fact been broken by this administration, we support all such legal and congressional actions necessary to ensure the survival of our Constitution and the nation we love.
Naomi Wolf is the co-founder of the American Freedom Campaign and the author of the New York Times bestseller, End of America (Chelsea Green).