Watson: Lawyers fight for America’s founding principles

Guest ColumnistJuly 3, 2014 

Cal Watson

JOHNMANN

— The Fourth of July is a good time to remember our nation’s dedication to the rule of law and to celebrate this principle that sets us apart from many other countries.

Two hundred thirty-eight years ago, the Declaration of Independence charged the king of England with depriving the colonists of their right to a trial by jury. Because America’s founders believed serving on a jury and testifying in court were essential responsibilities of being a citizen, they were willing to wage war to stand up for this right.

Throughout history, lawyers have fought to uphold the rule of law in our nation’s most defining moments: drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, crafting the Emancipation Proclamation and ending the Civil War, creating the New Deal to pull America out of the Great Depression and supporting the Civil Rights movement.

Still today, the rule of law is essential to our freedoms. The rule of law describes a system based on fair, publicized, easily understood and stable laws enforced by knowledgeable judges. Although Americans often take these rights and privileges for granted, we must always remember that our liberties, rights and way of life would be in great jeopardy without the rule of law. In many parts of the world, these rights are just a dream.

There always will be people who do not agree with a judge’s ruling and who criticize the lawyers who defend the accused. The fact is that under the American judicial system, anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty: It is the defense attorney’s job to ensure his or her client has a fair trial, the prosecutor’s responsibility to present evidence to the court on behalf of the state, and the judge’s responsibility to rule based on the facts presented. This system is the very cornerstone of our founders’ vision. As Americans, we should share the same passion and commitment today as our founders 238 years ago.

In some cases, the system our founders envisioned is not fully accessible. I am very proud that S.C. lawyers are dedicated to advancing justice and ensuring that the civil legal system is available to all our citizens. Many lawyers choose this profession because they believe in the American legal system and want to make a difference in the lives of those they represent. It is important that we stand up for everyone’s access to the privileges of our system.

Thanks to many lawyers serving as volunteers, the S.C. Bar offers programs to provide legal representation and advice to those who cannot easily access or afford it. We sponsor free legal clinics and Ask-A-Lawyer phone banks and web chats. We also help provide wills to first-response personnel and Habitat for Humanity homeowners; educate at-risk high school students on criminal law and the consequences of their choices; educate the public about adoption and foster care; and teach students about civic responsibility. For information, please visit scbar.org or call (803) 799-6653.

As we spend time this weekend with family and friends and give thanks for this beautiful nation, let us honor one of the defining principles of this nation’s founding — celebrating our legal rights, access to a fair and balanced justice system and the commitment of this state and nation to upholding the rule of law for all citizens.

Mr. Watson, a Columbia attorney, is president of the S.C. Bar; contact him at cwatson@sowellgray.com.

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