BY MATT HUTCHINS
On March 9, 2007, Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said “no” to President Pervez Musharraf’s request that he resign, and his defiance sparked a revolution of lawyers who refused to allow guns to drown out the voice of the law.
Chaudhry said, “I felt that I was only doing the duty of my conscience.” But as the rule of man threatened to overwhelm the rule of law, his defiance guided Pakistan’s march to justice. “It was the proclamation of a new manifesto for Pakistan, a declaration that the pursuit of justice cannot be subverted.”
The military stormed the Supreme Court and placed the justices under house arrest, but lawyers intensified the pressure on the foundation of the government, eroding support for the dictator. The march to the rule of law toppled Musharraf, and on August 18, 2008, he entered his resignation from the presidency.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor given by the Harvard Law School Association, and has previously been awarded to the team which litigated Brown v. Board of Education and to South African President Nelson Mandela.
Chief Justice Chaudhry was officially recognized with the award in November 2007, during the period of his house arrest in Pakistan, but he was only recently able to come to the United States to receive the honor. Dean Kagan, in presenting the award, praised Chaudhry, stating that his contribution to the rule of law was inestimable. He accepted the award on behalf of all the lawyers, professionals and students who ran the movement for the rule of law in Pakistan.
Chief Justice Chaudhry acknowledged that there is still a long road ahead as the people fight to turn the wheels of history toward constitutional order in Pakistan. The entrenched politicians, who are highly organized, are being squeezed on the one side by militant insurgents and on the other by judicial insurgents. The answer, he said, is the rule of law, which is “inhospitable to both dictatorship and terror.”
As the Pakistani judiciary moves toward the independence needed to protect a stable constitutional order, Chief Justice Chaudhry predicts the rule of law will be a boon to the developing nation’s economy. “The struggle now is about separation of power, the role of the judiciary, rule of law and ridding the judiciary of enslavement to the executive.” This battle is one that has been won by peaceful means before. “The Pakistani gun has a history of winning over Pakistani law. The law should win over the gun.”