The dictionary defines “rule of law” as “the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.” This is a principle embodied in our Constitution that we all learn about in high school, but few of us ever give it much thought after that.
Similarly, more than 50 years ago, Congress resolved that May 1 would always be known as Law Day, a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law. In most years, our three independent branches of government function peacefully and respectfully with each other, and because of that, Law Day typically comes and goes without much fanfare. But this year is different. This year we must cherish the rule of law.
As president of The Chicago Bar Association, I am keenly aware that the CBA is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization which should avoid positions on any political issues. After all, we no doubt have members who support all sides in any political debate. So, other than to comment on the unprecedented incivility which was displayed during the 2016 election cycle, I have vowed to adhere to the CBA’s long-standing rule to avoid political commentary.
There are, however, exceptions to every rule. Over the past several months, beginning in the general election cycle and continuing into the first months of his administration, President Trump has taken action and made comments which go beyond political gamesmanship and directly challenge our rule of law. When that happens, The Chicago Bar Association, on behalf of its 20,000 members, must speak out and object.
During the campaign, when Mr. Trump questioned the motives of a federal judge who ruled against him in the Trump University lawsuit because of that judge’s Mexican-American heritage, that was an attack on the rule of law, and we felt compelled to respond. More recently, when President Trump issued his executive order imposing a sweeping travel ban on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and then questioned the authority of the “so-called judge” who blocked the order, we again felt the need to speak out. You see, Mr. President, the judicial branch evaluating the constitutionality of actions taken by the legislative and executive branches is exactly what it was created to do. It is a real-life example of the rule of law in action.
In light of these recent events, I think it is particularly appropriate that Law Day this year will focus on the 14th Amendment. This amendment assures all of us “the equal protection of the laws” and has formed the foundation for some of our nation’s seminal Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. The Chicago Bar Association stands proudly behind all 14th Amendment protections, and we will surely speak out again if anyone in our government seeks to infringe on those rights.