Lawyers in Black
ABA leads march to protest repression in Pakistan
Posted Jan 1, 2008 3:03 PM CST
By Terry Carter
Many American lawyers were galvanized in early November by photo and video images of Pakistani lawyers protesting in the streets against the state of emergency—de facto martial law—imposed by the country’s ruler, Pervez Musharraf.
And in a show of support for their Pakistani colleagues, thousands of U.S. lawyers took to the streets to protest actions by Musharraf—who continued to serve as Pakistan’s president after resigning as head of the military in November—that suspended the country’s constitution, dismissed the supreme court, shut down other courts, and detained at least 2,000 lawyers and other opponents.
STEPPING OUT IN SOLIDARITY
In an unusual move, the ABA organized a street demonstration on Nov. 14 in Washington, D.C., to protest Musharraf’s actions. An estimated 600 to 700 lawyers, most of them wearing black suits as an expression of solidarity with their Pakistani colleagues, marched past the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill.
“Today we will walk to court, and we will show our colleagues in Pakistan that we share their commitment to justice,” shouted ABA President William H. Neukom at the start of the rally, without benefit of a PA system. “We will show them that they do not stand alone.”
The file of lawyers, judges, law students and others stretched for more than a block, five or six in ranks shoulder to shoulder, though not with military precision, as they moved along the edge of the Capitol grounds and past the Supreme Court building.
Neukom and his colleagues carried an ABA-blue banner proclaiming: “Lawyers stand up for the rule of law.” There were no speeches at the Supreme Court, where guards prohibit any groups protesting or rallying to even come onto the steps. The quiet, orderly ranks of professionals in dark clothing said everything by simply being there.
Lawyers also held demonstrations in other U.S. cities, including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Honolulu, San Francisco and Seattle, Neukom’s hometown. Bar associations around the country have issued statements or passed resolutions supporting the rule of law in Pakistan. Some foreign bar groups joined in the protests.
As part of its efforts to raise awareness about the political and legal crisis in Pakistan, the ABA created an online informational toolkit titled Constitutional Crisis in Pakistan.
TESTING THE RULE OF LAW
The crisis in pakistan adds focus to the World Justice Project, Neukom’s signature initiative as ABA president. The project’s goal is to measure the impact of the rule of law and identify how it can be used to help create communities of economic opportunity and social equity.
“The struggle of the Pakistani lawyers reminds us that the ideals of freedom and the rule of law are not abstract concepts, but are very real lines that stand between justice and tyranny,” said Neukom in an opinion editorial issued on the same day as the ABA’s march. “Their stand demonstrates how fragile the rule of law is in all nations, including our own.”
Marches on Capitol Hill are not novel—except for lawyers. The ABA’s primary modus operandi when it comes to issue advocacy is to present testimony at congressional hearings. The annual ABA Day in Washington event brings in bar leaders from around the country to meet with members of Congress.
But this demonstration had its effect. Nancy Prager, an intellectual property lawyer, said she was moved to join the Washington march when she heard of the crackdown in Pakistan. “Would most lawyers stand up if they knew they could be at the receiving end of a bullet, not a brief?”
“The diversity of the type of lawyers that attended was far greater than I expected,” Prager added. “The solidarity that we showed was heartening.”