America’s Lawless Empire

Among my indelible memories of the Law School in the “conforming Fifties” were two events. One was an address by Robert Hutchins (Dean of Yale Law School at age 29, then President of the University of Chicago) at a packed Austin Hall where he asked us “What is the purpose of the Harvard Law School?” There was a wave of smiles and snickers for what many thought was either an off-the-wall Socratic sally or just Hutchins being Hutchins asking an impossibly provocative question? Why, didn’t he know that Harvard Law School had no collective purpose beyond assembling scholarly faculty and motivated students?The second was when Dean Erwin Griswold publically spoke out against McCarthyism. That was considered a brave act, a demonstration of common candor that in the hysteria of that period was seen by many as uncommon courage.

Fast forward to today where lawless, violent practices by the White House and its agencies have become institutionalized by both parties. This rampage of concentrated raw power over law—from the constitution to the elements of due process and other domestic and international legal norms—seems not to have disturbed the professional narcissism of our many law schools around the country, a few exceptions to the contrary.

What is happening now towers over the McCarthy era which was a nasty chapter of Congressional witch-hunt history, to be sure, but one without the wielding of executive power and military might. Today we have a full blown, entrenched, virtually unchallenged constitutional crisis fueling a lawless American Empire. The constitutional crimes of Bush and Obama are expanding unabated, without checks and balances, much less discernable boundaries.

This is the subject to be treated on Wednesday at 11:45 a.m., February 8, 2012 at Austin East to which you, students, faculty and administrators, are vigorously invited.

Sponsored by the venerable Harvard Law School Forum, Bruce Fein ’72, former Army Intelligence Field officer in Afghanistan, Tony Shaffer, and I will place some vital issues on the table for your reaction and reflection, if you are so inclined, as to espousing varieties of remedial actions.

It is understandable that law students underestimate their moral authority with the profession they are about to join. But over the years when law students collaborated and took a stand, as they did on civil rights, civil liberties, peace and environment, they were heard.

Law students, with no clients or other axes to grind, can reach the moral conscience that lies latent inside the otherwise preoccupied minds of many working attorneys, judges and law teachers. We hope that our panel on Wednesday will stimulate law students to have a higher estimate of their own significance so as to take a position and speak out!

We also hope that law professors and deans everywhere will suspend the narrower definitions of their chosen specialized roles and, as a few already have, highlight for our society what is at stake if the present trends of official lawlessness by the “military-industrial complex” in President Eisenhower’s words, or by the corporate state—so dreaded by the likes of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, continue their perilous trajectories. For the law writ large must be a compelling attention of all members of the legal profession if indeed we are a profession, as officers of the court, and not merely a well-compensated trade, astutely servicing and facilitating the dominant powers.

Ralph Nader, Law ’58, will be speaking at the Forum Wednesday, February 8, at 11:45 a.m. in Austin East. The Forum is entitled, “America’s Lawless Empire: The Constitutional Crimes of Bush and Obama.”

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