Monday Morning Message 8.22.22 A Message to our First Year Students

Posted 2022-08-22 9:40am

 “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken…If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever…. We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share….”  - U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell, January 6, 2022

Last week was orientation for our first year (“1L”) students, and today is the first day of classes. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we return to fall semester classes today at a defining moment of challenge and controversy. Below are some excerpts from my welcome talk to our talented 1L students.

In 1950, long before any of you were born, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy experienced a meteoric rise to fame and power when he charged that “hundreds” of “known communists” were in the U.S. State Department. McCarthy, and his followers and enablers, convinced millions of Americans that communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life, often without any credible evidence. Behind closed-door hearings, McCarthy bullied, intimidated, and lied his way to power, all under the false guise of patriotism, destroying many careers and lives of Americans in the process.

In 1954 he held Senate hearings charging the U.S. Army of being “soft” on communism. He screamed at witnesses, and declared that one highly decorated general was a “disgrace” to his uniform. Joseph Welch was a soft-spoken lawyer who represented the Army. McCarthy charged that Fred Fisher (no relation), a young associate in Welch’s law firm, had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild that was a “legal arm of the Communist Party.” Welch responded “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” Welch then stated the immortal words that ultimately ended McCarthy's career, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Welch spoke truth to power at a time when many were afraid to do so.

You are entering law school at a moment when three of our most cherished values as Americans are at a crossroads. Truth, civility, and decency. In all of our lives there are moments of truth, and as law students and lawyers, now is our moment of truth. 

Our work has never been more important than it is right now. Now more than ever, we need lawyer-leaders to defend these values and the rule of law.

One of the core tenets of our profession is that facts matter. Lawyers understand the facts, follow the evidence, make arguments, and abide by the rulings of our judiciary. 

Fidelity to the rule of law does not mean that the law is always just. It is not. We all have work to do in making it better. But when our nation has achieved anything of consequence, it has done so most often through civil debate and measured compromise. We are at our best when we are showing humility, listening to other views, respectfully debating differences, and building consensus.

We seek to be a law school where we welcome and celebrate diverse viewpoints but where we share common values.  We want you to understand not only your client’s position but also the complex motivations and positions of all parties.

We want you to understand that reconciling differences is as important as winning cases. That even as you zealously advocate for your clients, you must remain committed to the ethical practice of law and civility.

We want you to see the practice of law as a calling to serve others, and we are committed to graduate students who are not only successful professionals, but also open-minded leaders, change makers, and advocates of justice.

The rule of law depends ultimately not on faceless institutions such as courts and legislatures, but on the integrity of the individual human beings who make up those institutions. 

Take time to think and decide what kind of leader you want to be. Think about the skills we need to discern truth, to uncover and reveal bias, and communicate across differences. We need citizens who are trained in the law, know how to discern what is true and what is a lie, and have the courage to speak up when our democracy is threatened.

All people of good faith should stand firm on our principles of democracy and speak up for them in moments like these. Draw your line in the sand like Joseph Welch did in 1954.

So many of you came to law school not only to learn law but to live justice. To advocate for fixing what’s broken. To forcefully call out injustice and decry inequality.

The rule of law is the foundation of democracy, and lawyers and judges are the guardians of the rule of law. Think of yourselves as more than law students. Think of yourselves as future custodians of democracy and guardians of justice.

It is not hyperbole to say that our hope for the future of democracy lies with you. The world needs you now more than ever.

The views and opinions expressed in my Monday Morning Message are solely my own and do not reflect the views and opinions of the law school or the university.

 Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay Committed to Living Justice.

 Have a great day. Have a great week.

Believe in C|M|LAW. Please Give Now.

 

 My best,

Lee

Lee Fisher
Dean, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
| Cleveland State University
Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law

For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages.

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