The Chicago Bar Association recognizes and commemorates Law Day. It is a day for us to contemplate the vital role of the rule of law as a pillar of our nation’s principles.
Law Day celebrates equality, justice, liberty, and our nation’s exceptional legal system. As we mark Law Day 2021 with the theme, “Advancing the Rule of Law Now,” the CBA is proud of its legacy of protecting the rule of law and championing judicial independence.
As we celebrate Law Day and the rule of law, we must hold each other accountable when the ideologies embodied in this phrase are violated. When the United States’ or states’ constitutions are threatened or judicial independence is under attack, it is our responsibility as bar associations to speak out and defend our legal system and its sacred precepts.
Because the rule of law is constantly being challenged, as members of the legal profession, we must be alert and ready to defend it. This past May, we watched in horror as Derek Chauvin, wearing the uniform and markings of a police officer, pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck for over more than eight minutes, ultimately killing him, despite Floyd and those watching begging for his life. We now turn to the courts for justice, recognizing that if there are different standards of accountability, trust in our justice system further erodes.
This past January, like many of you, I recoiled as the United States Capitol Building was breached, ransacked and disrespected by rioters. This ensued after months of disinformation and lies perpetuated by individuals, many of whom possessed law degrees. Our democracy still stands because members of our judiciary held true to rules of evidence, standards of proof, and the law itself. In effect, the rule of law held firm.
The CBA has engaged in several programs that have addressed the rule of law. The CBA Young Lawyers Section’s Racial Justice Coalition hosted a discussion with Senator Dick Durbin on the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. This program addressed how the act would result in meaningful policing reform in communities such as ours.
During Pro Bono Week 2020, the CBA hosted a screening and film discussion on the voting rights documentary, “Good Trouble,” featuring the late civil rights leader and American hero, Congressman John Lewis.
In addition, the CBA hosted a webinar with Illinois Senate President Don Harmon. We discussed Illinois’ legislative agenda and how it has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Harmon also discussed tax reform and judicial independence.
On April 15, I led a discussion on this topic titled “Preserving the Rule of Law: Constitutional Allegiance and Judicial Independence,” featuring attorneys Michael Reagan, Federico Rodriguez and Timothy Tomasik. We discussed the meaning of “support and defend” the Constitution; the connection between the Constitution, judicial independence, and public confidence; outside forces that impact judicial independence and why this is concerning, and the role of bar associations in vetting judicial candidates and supporting judicial independence.
I began this bar year asking members of the CBA to recommit to Chicago, the bar, and to principles of association. Right now, I am asking every lawyer and judge to recommit to the rule of law: truth, justice, fairness, and equity.