Byte of Prevention Blog

by Lawyers Mutual |

ABA President Calls on Lawyers to Defend Judiciary

On April 8, 2024, American Bar Association President, Mary Smith, issued a statement calling on all members of the legal profession to defend against increasing threats against judges in the United States 

Smith noted that threats against judges have doubled since 2019. They include threats of physical harm or death and have been made against judges and their families. Smith said that this threatens judicial independence and the rule of law. Smith suggested that bar associations should take a leading role in responding to the criticisms of the judiciary.

Here is the full text of her statement: 

Dear fellow lawyers,‌

Our courts and judges are under attack. Serious threats against federal judges have doubled since 2021, with 457 serious threats targeting federal judges across the country in 2023. National leaders and private citizens are making false statements and scurrilous accusations against judges for partisan, personal gain. These attacks are no idle matter. Often, they involve threats of physical harm or death — not only to the judges but also to their families and staff.

Threats against the very individuals we have appointed or elected to administer our judicial system and the rule of law are not only wrong, they also threaten the fabric of our democracy — judicial independence and the rule of law.  All lawyers are bound by ethical rules based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules prohibit lawyers from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. Based on these rules, and to maintain the fair and independent administration of justice, lawyers also are encouraged to defend judges and courts that are unjustly criticized.‌

The recent appearance of U. S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton on CNN underscores the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for decisive action. Judge Walton said: “We do these jobs because we’re committed to the rule of law and we believe in the rule of law, and the rule of law can only function effectively when we have judges who are prepared to carry out their duties without the threat of potential physical harm.”‌

Safeguarding the security of judges and court staff aligns with the ABA's longstanding commitment to uphold both the rule of law and judicial security. In 2018, the ABA Standing Committee on the American Judicial System issued a call to action — a report titled “Rapid Response to Fake News, Misleading Statements and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary” — urging lawyers to stand up and correct the public record when courts are unfairly attacked. The report states:

“Bar associations have a special responsibility to ensure that the public holds the judiciary in the highest esteem. Judges are, and should be, highly respected leaders of our legal system… Inaccurate, unjustified, and simply false criticisms of judges should be answered promptly and fully. The bar associations must take a leading role in responding to such criticisms.”

As lawyers, it is also incumbent on us to teach our fellow Americans how to take appropriate actions should they disagree with court opinions. For example, people involved in litigation who are unhappy with a court’s decision can file an appeal to a higher court for review by a different impartial decision maker. Members of the public who are dissatisfied with a court’s decision can organize a community meeting, write to newspapers and websites, petition Congress or their state legislature to change laws, support a citizens’ initiative or undertake the simple act of voting.

These are extraordinary times. As lawyers and as guardians of the third branch of government, we have a unique duty to lead our nation in the protection of judges, the rule of law and American democracy. The time has come to rededicate ourselves to our obligations.

Mary Smith
President, American Bar Association

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Lawyers Mutual

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