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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

October 2017Volume 105Number 10Page 8

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President's Page

Rule of Law’s Importance on Display Worldwide

Recent events from Poland to Turkey to Charlottesville underscore the urgent need to stand up for the rule of law around the world.

Hon. Russell W. Hartigan

The importance of the rule of law these days is very much on display around the world.

Poland empowered its justice ministry to fire judges last summer. The European Union launched legal action against this overhaul of the Polish court system, which the European Commission says undermines the courts in violation of EU rules. "The Democratic Rule of Law remains at risk," the Commission announced, and thousands of Polish citizens protested in the streets against their government's action.

At the ABA Annual Meeting in New York in August, an exiled Turkish judge spoke about being targeted by the current rulers, along with other attorneys and judges, as an alleged perpetrator of a coup attempt last year that was quickly put down by the government. He said that if he returns to Turkey he will be immediately imprisoned. He fears for his family members who still reside there.

He received a standing ovation from members of the ABA House of Delegates, myself included. After the coup attempt, Turkey's executive branch retaliated against attorneys and judges who objected to government policy. Turkey has a state-run news agency and imprisons people who are accused of espionage and trying to change the "constitutional order."

Here in the U.S., we witnessed bigotry, racism, and neo-Nazism at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. A counter-protester was killed at the event.

In response to this and other incidents, the Decalogue Society convened a press conference at the Chicago Loop Synagogue to condemn acts of racism and anti-Semitism, where they were joined by the Illinois State Bar Association and a number of other bar groups. The importance of the rule of law was a common theme among the speakers, with emphasis on protecting our rights under the law regardless of race, religion, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation.

I represented the ISBA at the event. How proud we all were to rally around a common cause and represent our bar associations. It's wonderful to see this cohesiveness and a spirited call to action by various bar groups. Charlottesville proved that bigots recognize no racial, ethnic, or religious boundaries.

Our executive branch should take quick and decisive action, ideally by making strong public statements that this country abhors the views of racists and Nazis and will not tolerate violence by extremists. The "Unite the Right Rally" in Charlottesville should be a rallying point for all who believe that violent acts by extremists are a threat to the tenets of our democracy.

At the ISBA, we have a dynamic young Diversity Leadership Council led by Kelli Childress, a Kane County Public Defender. The council represents the antithesis of the bigotry we witnessed in Virginia.

This group is composed of the best and the brightest talent. Former chair Cory White was a great leader, and I was proud to appoint him to our Board of Governors. He exemplifies the young, diverse leadership talent that is blossoming in our organization. (For info about nominating yourself for a leadership position, see Jim McCluskey's message in this month's Journal.)

I look forward during my presidential year to working with the various bar groups in Illinois to further positive change. Our message comes in many shapes and forms, but I was inspired by the unity displayed at the Chicago Loop Synagogue, a house of worship that was vandalized last year. Many thanks to the Decalogue Society for bringing everyone together in a show of support for the rule of law.