I remember my first presidential election in college. It was 1976: Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter.
Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon was on everyone’s mind. We waited late into the night to see who would win. And for the first time since Herbert Hoover, an incumbent president was defeated for reelection. Power passed seamlessly from Ford to Carter. No one attacked the Capitol to keep Ford in office. The rule of law held.
Ten years later, from my office in Chicago, I watched another peaceful transition.
This time, it was at the Supreme Court. I was a young associate with Jenner & Block, and Chief Justice Warren Burger had just retired. President Reagan named William Rehnquist to replace him. There was a partisan fight, but Rehnquist was easily confirmed. Again, the rule of law prevailed.
Those days seem quaint now. Politics has turned ugly, sometimes even violent. And yet, the rule of law still holds. The practice of law is more important today than ever.
The rule of law sets forth the ideals that ensure an orderly and just society. It creates a system in which no one is above the law, and no one is beneath it. The law treats all equally; everyone is held accountable to the same laws. The judiciary is independent and all are guaranteed their human rights.
This past year, our nation was tested. Many Americans protested that the United States had failed to live up to the ideal of a racially neutral justice system. Others contested election results. Claims were investigated and lawsuits were filed. The peaceful transition of power was threatened on Jan. 6 when false claims and an angry mob threatened to overturn our democracy.
Ultimately, the rule of law prevailed. Today, on Law Day, it is good to remember that lawyers are guardians of the law that holds our country together. We are an indispensable part of what makes the United States a nation like no other.
Today, teach your neighbors about the law. Renew your commitment to your local and state bar.
The law works — so many years after Carter-Ford and Burger-Rehnquist — thanks to the ceaseless efforts of lawyers like you. As you defend liberty and pursue justice every day, know that the American Bar Association stands with you.