Sunday, December 13, 2020
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously rejected Texas’s attempt to overturn the election of Joe Biden, it’s worth pausing to reflect on what we’ve learned over the past few weeks about the role of lawyers in our country. At a time when we need lawyers to bring fact-driven advocacy to our political turmoil, Jenna Ellis and her team have worked furiously to discredit the election‘s outcome, claiming that the election was “stolen” and that President Trump “won by a landslide.” Their rhetoric, though not matched by admissible evidence, has nevertheless fueled distrust of the election results, especially among those already inclined to believe the worst about their political opponents. By asserting wild claims in press conferences that do not match the evidence submitted with their court pleadings, the Trump campaign’s lawyers have driven cynicism toward our democratic institutions to new levels.
The rule of law depends in significant part on trust. There have always been lawyers – from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum – who make outlandish arguments for which the evidence proves inadequate. The difference with the lawyers’ behavior in the election’s aftermath is two-fold: 1) the far-reaching dangers of an incumbent president using all of his influence to attack our democratic infrastructure as corrupt; 2) the already wide polarization resulting from an ongoing red-blue sorting of our country along demographic and geographic lines. By seeming to legitimize the conspiracy theories circulating on social media, the Trump campaign’s lawyers have brought gasoline to the growing flames of social distrust.
One key dimension of a lawyer’s work is two-way translation: helping opposing parties and decision-makers understand our clients’ perspectives, and helping clients understand the perspectives of decision-makers and opposing parties. When those relationships cross the red-blue chasm, we may need more than translation – we may need a restoration of trust as a precursor to mutual understanding. In an environment as politically charged as the election’s aftermath, wisely stewarding the trust on which our institutions depend is especially important.
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