As I imagine did almost all of you, yesterday I watched in shock and disbelief as an armed mob took control of the citadel of our democracy and held it for hours, incited by a President encouraging violence aimed at upending not just our national election but all it represents. The rest of the world, friend and foe alike, was with equal raptness witnessing this horror. Had the forces of sedition prevailed, they would have gravely, even fatally, undermined our democracy.
We all have seen America go through a lot in the past several decades, some of it driven by the forces of darkness but far more, to my mind, inspired by and vindicating our better angels.
But yesterday I for one could only experience genuine fear for our nation. Democracy is not immutable or immortal, and it is in the hands of all of us to preserve and defend it, or through inaction demonstrate our unworthiness.
Our profession is about nothing if not the Rule of Law.
Our craft and our calling is to mold words to spur action.
Words have consequences.
Human beings–all of us–have agency, make choices, take action.
Yesterday did not happen in a vacuum or arise spontaneously. Readers of Adam Smith, Esq. are educated, smart, and articulate, and many, we can be sure, value lighter regulations, lower taxes, or prefer access and proximity to power to marginalization. (Who doesn’t?)
But make no mistake: The events at the Capitol were not spontaneous. Yesterday required and depended on enablers–including a notorious roll call of lawyers. Yesterday exposed for all to see the depths of their Faustian bargain.
I wrote a moment ago that the forces of sedition did not prevail yesterday. But they have not gone away; they will be back.
When I was admitted to the New York State Bar many years ago, I swore an oath in open court and my name, as required by § 1 of Article XIII of the New York State Constitution, was recorded in a set of bound volumes for posterity to refer to and so that no one could forget my pledge.
The first line of that oath reads:
I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, …
The Rule of Law has never needed its stewards, guardians, and champions more.
Words matter. Oaths matter.