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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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