The latest sign that the rule of law in America is endangered. With maybe a glimmer of hope (yes, the lawyers may save us yet!).
Yesterday I reported about an open letter signed by hundreds of former federal prosecutors, a letter saying that given the substantial evidence in the Mueller report, each of them would have indicted Trump for obstruction of justice–except for the Department of Justice guidance that a sitting president not be indicted. Those lawyers who elaborated said it wasn’t even close–that Trump could have been indicted and convicted for multiple crimes.
At the time it was first released, 300 or so former Department of Justice lawyers, some with as much as 41 years of service, including many former U.S Attorneys, working in Republican and Democratic administrations from Nixon through Trump, had signed. As of this morning, that number of signers had grown to 680 and is still growing. These lawyers represent over 8,500 years of nonpartisan service in the cause of American justice. In the cause of the rule of law.
The story got some attention for a few hours yesterday, and then sank, as critical stories have a tendency to do in these critical days. Maybe the news media don’t think Americans are interested in this sort of “inside baseball” technical legal issue or that Americans are tired of the whole Mueller thing. Maybe many Americans aren’t interested in this. Maybe Americans think that lawyers are liars who will say anything, including lawyers who work for the previously most respected legal organization in America–the Department of Justice.
A brief note about Sir Thomas More, the Chancellor for Henry VIII. More is celebrated in multiple realms, both religious and legal. He was named by lawyers as the lawyer of the last millennium for his unwavering stand for the rule of law and conscience over selfish motives, convenience or the wishes of a king. He was famously executed for his conscientious resistance.
In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, More explains his steadfast allegiance to the rule of law. When the laws are cut down or ignored one by one, what will be left for us?:
ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!
THOMAS MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
THOMAS MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil himself turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.