As the American Bar Association wrapped up its 2017 Midyear Meeting recently in Miami, I was proud to stand in front of the almost 600 members of our House of Delegates and talk about what defines our association in this critical time in history.
It is our commitment to the rule of law, due process and access to justice. With these foundations, our country has weathered every crisis: civil war, world wars, economic depressions and social unrest.
There’s been a lot of talk about protecting our borders. Let me tell you what the most important border is: the rule of law found within our Constitution.
Personal attacks on judges are attacks on our Constitution.
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For a nation based on the rule of law, nothing is more important than the impartiality and integrity of our court system. A fair and impartial judiciary is a proud hallmark of American democracy.
Congress has been extremely slow in filling vacant judgeships. There are more than 100 empty seats on the federal courts. This is a real threat to the rule of law in America.
The ABA does not advocate for or against judicial nominees. Rather, we evaluate their qualifications. The ABA’s independent Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary conducts extensive peer reviews of each nominee’s integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament. The committee does not consider a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation or ideology.
We will continue our vital role of vetting every federal court nominee, as we have done since the Eisenhower administration, because it is essential that our courts are led by the most qualified judges.
We look forward to ensuring that the Senate has all the information it needs to make an informed decision on each nominee for lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court and every federal court.
It is vital that our judiciary remains independent and free from political pressure — independent from party politics, independent from Congress and independent from the president of the United States himself.
There are no “so-called judges” in America. There are simply judges — fair and impartial.
Another pressing justice issue is immigration. Every nation has a right to protect its borders. But we are concerned about portions of the executive orders recently issued. They jeopardize fundamental principles of justice, due process and the rule of law.
The Supreme Court has held that many fundamental rights apply to all “persons” within the United States, regardless of citizenship or status. We must avoid sweeping bans based on religion or national origin. We oppose detention, except in extraordinary circumstances, such as a threat to public safety or flight risk.
And we strongly insist on the right to due process and legal representation — including hearings before impartial immigration judges. Under the rule of law, we owe due process to all, including those who face deportation.
We are proud of lawyers from around the nation who flocked to airports where immigrants were detained. It is important that lawyers represent their clients’ interests — even unpopular interests — without fear of retaliation or persecution.
The Law Practice Division Futures Committee and the ABA Center for Innovation accelerated a project to coordinate the volunteer efforts of lawyers responding to the president’s travel ban. Working with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, they helped set up a website in one afternoon, immigrationjustice.us, with links to relevant law, habeas resources, how-to-help guides and volunteer forms.
We have a great team at the ABA. We strive to hold power accountable. To insist on fundamental respect for our laws and the people they protect.
At the ABA, we will protect the rule of law. We will defend the Constitution. We are lawyers. We took an oath, and these are our values. As Winston Churchill said, “We will never give in. Never, never, never, never.”
Linda A. Klein is president of the American Bar Association.