Monday, February 15, 2021

Sherrilyn A. Ifill: Lawyers Enabled Trump’s Worst Abuses - The New York Times

We have arrived at a time of reflection.  When Barack Obama was elected we felt, just perhaps, we have moved decisively toward that promised land where judgment on character rather than race will carry the day - and that the legacy of our long failures will be reckoned with candidly.  Instead we found him denounced as the Food Stamp President - the implication that he was handing out our money to lazy louts, etc.  Then came the stalemate on immigration reform which many Republicans had championed and had come near passage in Congress.  Mitch mcConnell's pledge was to block Obama's agenda.  Still within the bounds of normal politics.
But then the debacle descending the gilded escalator of Trump Tower.  We were warned of Mexican rapists "they're not sending their best" and four years of successive lows began.  Finally the claim of massive election fraud and a battery of some sixty lawsuits which sought to but did not derail the election results.
NAACP LDF President Sherrilyn A. Ifill looks to South Africa's  Truth & Reconciliation Commission as a model for us to follow - to look at our profession's failures.  - GWC

Opinion | Lawyers Enabled Trump’s Worst Abuses - The New York Times
The legal profession must reckon with its complicity in Trump’s attack on democracy.
By Sherrilyn A. Ifill [President, NAACP LDEF]

Every day, we learn more about the concerted attack on American democracy perpetuated to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. But the violent storming of the Capitol was only its most visible and ugly climax. What has become disturbingly and abundantly clear is that whether through former President Donald Trump’s relentless and meritless lawsuits, the plot in the Department of Justice to remove the acting attorney general, or a congressional plan in which members — including two former Supreme Court clerks — perpetuated false unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, lawyers played a central role in enabling the most dangerous assault on American democracy in more than a century.

The appalling conduct of the lawyers at the highest levels of government who behaved so shamelessly in seeking to maintain Mr. Trump in office was not an aberration, but a continuation. Throughout his presidency, lawyers were centrally involved in perpetuating some of its most repugnant excesses. Attorney General Jeff Sessions helped develop the concept of family separation as a migration deterrent. His deputy, Rod Rosenstein, reportedly signed off on applying the policy no matter the age of the child. Sessions’s successor, Bill Barr, misrepresented the Mueller team’s findings and interfered with the sentencing of the Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

Despite this, there was little condemnation from the leadership institutions of our profession. The American Law Institute invited Mr. Barr to speak just months after his hijacking of the Mueller report, and ensured that there was no opportunity for questions from the audience. And neither judicial nor prosecutors’ associations ever issued condemnatory statements when Mr. Trump incited threats against the Black jury forewoman in Mr. Stone’s case.

The upending of norms and standards carried into the legislative and judicial branches as well. Many cabinet and judicial nominees, beginning with Mr. Sessions himself, made a mockery of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation process by providing misleading information on their confirmation questionnaires — which are submitted under penalty of perjury. Neither Mr. Sessions nor other nominees were held accountable for these misrepresentations. Instead, almost all were confirmed.

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The Judiciary Committee — principally made up of lawyers — split along party lines, with many Republican lawyer members recommending the confirmation of Federal District Court nominees who had no discernible litigation experience, and of appellate court and District Court nominees who received rare “not qualified” ratings by the American Bar Association.

During their confirmation hearings, over two dozen Trump administration nominees to the federal bench refused to say that the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, was correctly decided — despite universal acceptance that Brown is fundamental to the rule of law itself.

Just as the president, members of Congress, and insurrectionists must be held accountable for their actions, the legal profession must urgently take collective stock of why so many prominent legal institutions and leaders were embroiled in supporting one of the most corrupt and destructive presidencies in our history.

There is precedent for this kind of institutional reckoning. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T.R.C.) hearings were a wrenching confrontation with the brutal reality of apartheid. These hearings — which unfolded before a global audience — were remarkable for their frank, honest, and terrifying accounts of abuses committed by the white supremacist apartheid regime. The T.R.C. hearings were regarded as a necessary confrontation with the full measure of widespread complicity with apartheid, as the country set a new course toward a democratic future.

One of the most important, but less well-known, efforts of the T.R.C. was its institutional hearings, which examined civil society’s role in perpetuating the apartheid regime’s abuses. The three days of legal system-focused proceedings were the most riveting of the institutional hearings — and among the most controversial.


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