I have been reflecting on Memorial Day and paying tribute to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberty.
We are very fortunate to live in a place where an accused is presumed innocent, and has a right to notice, counsel, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, against compelled self incrimination and against unreasonable search and seizure. We also have constitutional rights to equal protection, due process, and freedom of speech and religion, and against government establishment of religion.
Each generation has a responsibility to fight to keep the rights and ideals enshrined in our Constitution alive. As lawyers, we have a special responsibility to give meaning to these rights that define us as a nation of laws and liberties, and we fight in court every day to ensure that the government promotes our rights, and does not encroach on them. We know from experience that many of our citizens take these rights for granted and don’t agree with them unless or until they face charges. As many of us know all too well, many of our prosecutors and judges give only lip service to our rights and achieving justice in many cases requires hard work by us, and is not always successful.
Any student of history knows how valuable and special our rights are. When anyone advocates exclusion (and inevitably detention) based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or gender, it must be quickly and unequivocally condemned lest it spread. I do not question the right to advocate exclusion. But speech leads to action. I keep the following well known quote from Martin Niemöller in my thoughts:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
As we remember the heroes who sacrificed for us, let’s not forget what they died for.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend.
Author: 2015 update to Maryland Evidence: State and Federal by Professor Lynn McLain
“Patience, Perseverance, Persuasion”