“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory… will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861
“In our finest hours, the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists…” – Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels.
As we celebrate America’s birthday this week, I want to briefly reflect on the confluence of three events this past week- the resignation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the tragic shootings of 5 journalists at the Capital Gazette, and, yes, even LeBron James’ free agency.
In mid-June 1776, a five-man committee, four of whom were lawyers, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, was tasked with drafting a formal statement of the colonies’ intentions. The Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin if our new nation was to be a republic or monarchy. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied.
The story of America is our continuing challenge and obligation to “keep it”, our search for America’s soul, and the “battle for our better angels.”
If anything is clear throughout U.S. history, it is that we need to protect and exercise our rights and freedoms if we are to keep them.
That includes the right of the President to nominate and the right of the U.S. Senate to confirm, the nomination of U.S.Supreme Court Justices.
What do the following U.S. Supreme Court Cases have in common? Miranda v. Arizona, Bush v. Gore, Citizens United v. FEC, and Obergefell v. Hodges. Answer: each was a significant, controversial 5-4 decision demonstrating the power of a single Justice. More importantly, these are just a few of the countless decisions that demonstrate the undisputed influence the U.S. Supreme Court has over all our lives and the lives of future generations.
That includes our First Amendment right to free speech. A free press is vital to an informed citizenry and a monitor on government power. As we celebrate the founding of our country in the midst of a heated national debate about civil discourse and the role of a free media in our society, reckless statements that the press “is the enemy of the American people” only serve to create an incendiary climate that can lead not only to anger, but violence.
Just hours after a gunman stormed the Capital Gazette newspaper, killing five journalists and wounding several, thesurviving members of its staff published the next day’s edition, determined not to allow the senseless violence to stop them from the mission of keeping readers informed. It’s worth noting that this very same paper printed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.
Even LeBron James’ very disappointing decision yesterday to play for the LA Lakers is arguably symbolic of the right of our citizens to be free agents – the power to choose where and with whom we live, work, and play.
This week, as we celebrate America’s free agency, let’s remember that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are not static documents. They require the constant attention and diligence of all our citizens. This past week’s events remind us that the battle for our nation’s soul is never-ending.
Every week, the enduring documents that served as the foundation for our nation, are being tested.
Have a great week.
For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages.
My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our Law School or our University.