Events have moved at breakneck speed the last several days as a world already facing down a pandemic and economic uncertainty has witnessed (repeatedly, and even in slow motion) the senseless killing of George Floyd. The days and nights of social protest and violence have left many uneasy, sad, and even disheartened. The confluence of these events, and their effects on all of us, have been profound. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” This is one reason why the Rule of Law and Access to Justice are so important in our two countries, and why those fundamental concepts transcend political or social causes. We cannot ignore them.
We embrace collegiality in our College fellowship, and we take care that the College not be employed to advance any particular political or social agenda. This distinguishes the College from other organizations, and permits us to respect a variety of viewpoints, some of which compete with one another. It also allows us to embrace certain fundamental truths that are beyond political debate. Nelson Mandela observed: “Racism is a blight on human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.” (address to UK’s Joint Houses of Parliament, July 11, 1996) No political or social view will contest that declaration. Just three years ago Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, and recipient of the Griffin Bell Award for Courageous Advocacy, addressed the College and reminded us of the importance of the Rule of Law in our countries, the need to “do what is right, even when it’s hard,” the “power of proximity,” and the need to stay hopeful. Bryan’s speech, particularly today, is worth thirty minutes of your time. View speech
In difficult times I have been moved by the concept that while we must be learned and meticulous in the pursuit of our chosen profession, so too must we be eager for unity where possible and look for opportunities for intimacy, the grace of dependence, and even the difficult give-and-take of love. In honoring our collegial relationships, we must also acknowledge the tragic death of George Floyd and too many others like him in our societies and reaffirm our common commitment to Justice writ large. A College benediction years ago observed that wisdom is never divorced from compassion; that the strong do not need power; and that the truly rich are those who know the value of the blessings that are theirs already. We have a great many challenges ahead, but we also have the tools to meet them. Thank you for your consideration and for your steadfast commitment to the Rule of Law and equal Access to Justice.
Douglas R. Young