Guardians of freedom

November 1, 2010
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Reporter Mike Hoskins wrote this post.

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers."
 
That, of course, is William Shakespeare’s famous line from his play Henry VI (Part 2). The oft-quoted line is for the most part taken out of context and used to illustrate a non-lawyer's frustration with the legal system. Many know it comes from one of Shakespeare's plays, but usually there's little awareness beyond that.

In a recent Indiana Lawyer newspaper column, veteran Fort Wayne practitioner Donald D. Doxsee cited that line and added what lawyers should remind people who quote it.

“You should remind them that Shakespeare put these words into the mouth of a villain attempting to seize power illegally. Our profession stands as the guardians of the rule of law and the protector of rights,” Doxsee wrote.

It seems that Shakespeare quote is often what people think of first when the topic is “lawyer jokes.” With all the talk lately about civility and professionalism, and newly installed Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David pointing out his dislike for lawyer jokes, this topic seems timely. And appropriate.

Members of the legal profession have made this observation before, just like our friend in Fort Wayne. Now-retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens even dissented on a case referring to the value of lawyers. Walters v. National Association of Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 359 (1985) involved a statute adopted in 1862 limiting attorney's fees in veterans’ cases to $10.  The federal government argued that the system worked better without a lot of quarrelsome lawyers involved, but the justice made this point: "Just as I disagree with the present court's crabbed view of the concept of 'liberty,' so do I reject its apparent unawareness of the function of the independent lawyer as a guardian of our freedom."
 
He wrote a footnote pointing out, "As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government." With that, the high court justice made the point that attorneys are a protection from too much government power rather than an evil to be protected against.

Clearly, some lawyers and jurists know the context and aren’t afraid to share it. Maybe it’s time that some “lawyer jokes” be examined for the larger lessons about the profession, rather than just dismissed as a slight against those who’ve passed the bar. The public could take some lesson from this, it seems.

Any thoughts from Indiana's barristers or benchers?

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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