Lawyers, no matter what political views they hold, play an important role in defending constitutional values and the rule of law, Professor Kate Andrias told students during her Blue Jeans Lecture on November 17. While it’s easy to get discouraged with the political process and to think democracy doesn’t work, Andrias urged students “not to give up on democracy or hold it in disdain.”
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd, Andrias—the recipient of the 2016 L. Hart Wright Award for Teaching Excellence—asked students to actively participate in rebuilding democratic institutions. Get involved in “institutions that give people a voice in the decisions that affect their lives … that are composed of actual people,” Andrias said. Help build worker organizations, faith-based groups, or environmental organizations; join the local Chamber of Commerce; participate in town hall meetings or meetings with legislators; or help people register to vote, she suggested.
Andrias also urged students to commit to upholding the Constitution and rule of law. “It’s our responsibility as citizens and as lawyers to defend our basic constitutional order,” she said. She stressed the importance of drawing lines regarding the constitutional values that we want to uphold and the need to speak out when we see them being compromised, even though standing up for one’s principles can be difficult. “We have agency,” Andrias said, noting a range of available strategies and tactics, from serving as civil rights lawyers to working in a local prosecutor’s office prosecuting hate crimes, from writing op-eds and amicus briefs to performing pro bono work. “Strengthen your resolve to defend our constitutional values. … Strengthen your resolve to speak out, to stand up, even against small infractions.”
Andrias reminded students they should feel inspired and hopeful about their chosen profession. “You are learning to be lawyers—to reason, write, litigate, and defend,” she said. “You are gaining the tools to make a difference.”
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