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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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