When one visits Americans and when one studies their laws, one sees that the authority they have given to lawyers and the influence that they have allowed them to have in the government form the most powerful barrier today against the lapses of democracy.
-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)
American Spectator contributors Debra Saunders and Dov Fischer have done a great job describing the truly horrendous display of brute-force progressivism by the Stanford Law students who shut down an attempted lecture by the distinguished Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center Ed Whelan over at National Review and journalists at the Washington Free Beacon also did a great job in bringing this scandal to the attention of the public instantaneously after the sad events occurred. Most gratifyingly, commentator George Will wrote an appropriately scathing column in the Washington Post. (RELATED: Stanford Law School Is Doomed)
Praise and honor go to the good judge himself for his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “My Struggle Session at Stanford Law School,” which appeared on St. Patrick’s Day. The man can throw a punch as well as take one.
After recounting the incredibly rude and wild behavior of the Stanford Law students who showered invective, insults, and obscenities at him, Judge Duncan observed:
The most disturbing aspect of this shameful debacle is what it says about the state of legal education. Stanford is an elite law school. The protesters showed not the foggiest grasp of the basic concepts of legal discourse: That one must meet reason with reason, not power. That jeering contempt is the opposite of persuasion. That the law protects the speaker from the mob, not the mob from the speaker. Worst of all, Ms. Steinbach’s [the feckless school bureaucrat in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion] remarks made clear she is proud that Stanford students are being taught that this is the way law should be.
Reflecting on Judge Duncan’s commentary, I pulled out my Missouri Bar license certificate, which contains the “Oath of Admission” to which I swore back in 1974. It includes a provision by which the oath taker swears to uphold both the United States and Missouri Constitutions and moves on to the declarations “[t]hat I will faithfully demean myself in my practice” and “[t]hat I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers” (emphasis added).
Finally, one seeking admission to the bar must swear “[t]hat I will abstain from all offensive personality.”
Reading the accounts of the dishonorable and barbarous behavior of the students at Stanford Law — both then and since the trashing of Judge Duncan’s lecture — one must conclude that these “brats,” as noted by George Will in his column, have no idea of what is expected of them as professionals and officers of the court over and beyond their responsibilities as advocates for their clients. Does Stanford Law teach legal ethics? Will its graduates even be able or willing to take such an oath as I did almost 40 years ago? Most feared is that these entitled, opinionated people will be welcomed into the legal community and thus lead to the further deterioration of the profession and the nation’s judicial system.
I no longer practice law, but the ethical and principled behavior that was inculcated by my law school, the lawyers and judges in my family, and the many fine lawyers with whom I practiced seem to be unknown or unknowable by these students of a so-called “elite” law school. Their behavior smacks of antics right out of community organizer Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in their crude attempt to isolate, shame, and belittle an outstanding jurist, even allowing for their legitimate disagreements with his opinions. In sum, they have abandoned ethics and principle for ideology and agitprop.
For many years, I have been honored to serve as an adjunct professor at Scalia Law School at George Mason University. It is inconceivable that any of my students would behave the way the Stanford Law students did. May it ever be so.
At the last class of every semester, I introduce the students to Abraham Lincoln’s “Notes on the Practice of Law,” a small item probably written around 1849–1850, according to the Library of America’s Lincoln: Selected Speeches and Writings. In very few, well-chosen words, Lincoln offers advice about moving a case forward, handling relations with clients, setting a fair fee, and the like.
Toward the end of the “Notes,” he offers a deeper, broader view of the responsibility of lawyers:
There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence, and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common-almost universal. Let no young man, choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to this popular belief. Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you can not be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.
Stanford Law should consider how its teaching of prospective lawyers requires attending to the moral aspects of lawyering — not just the technical ones. Honesty is the minimum required, along with humility and dedication to impartial, unpoliticized justice.
READ MORE by G. Tracy Mehan III:
Recovering a More Perfect Union: A Rebuke of the 1619 Project
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