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Saturday, September 14, 2002

Justice -- An Open Letter to the Profession from Alfred P. Carlton, Jr., ABA President
Alfred P. Carlton Jr. -- Special to -- 09-16-2002
The seasons have now cycled since that moment when we saw a blue September sky turn the darkest of gray. One year ago, forces from outside our imagination attacked innocent and earnest people for no other reason than they were workaday participants in the wondrous journey that is America.

Sept. 11 was not the first time we, as a nation, have endured such a stunning shock to our sensibilities and faith. Nor, in all probability, will it be the last.

The deep outpouring of grief and sympathy from ordinary people all over the world was the manifestation of an almost universally held belief that, despite the disagreements that invariably exist between nations, America is a phenomenon unlike any other in the history of mankind. That in power we find compassion; in wealth we find conscience. That we are a nation of individualism, fiercely protective of all manners of our freedom, a place where one can believe in any god, speak any idea, maintain any belief. The United States has been a salvation for millions and millions because we are a nation of democracy, tolerance and the deeply held conviction that the human spirit, left to flower, can triumph over almost any challenge.

Such an allegiance to these ideals is not just rhetorical. It is written into, and facilitated by, our laws. It is our law, above all else, that binds us all to a common moral code. Our law protects us from tyranny, rewards our creativity, punishes our corruptness. Our law facilitates that which is the greatest moral concept our species has ever had the temerity to develop: the concept of justice.

As lawyers, you and I see justice every day. Fair hearing, due process, presumption of innocence, are the foundations on which everything else rests. It is you and I, the American lawyer, whose calling it is to ensure that justice is done.

Most of us became lawyers because of a desire to be involved in the operation of the social construct. As officers of the court, we seek to ensure that our vast universe of human endeavor moves with the grace of justice. We are sworn to pursue this calling with our common oath to "uphold, defend and protect the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America."

I hope all lawyers have felt, as I have, a renewed passion for our chosen profession in these new times. No matter how far removed your daily work seems from the founding principles of this nation, we know that it is not. Justice exists every day, each a fair hearing, each served by due process.

The law is, and always will be, our collective shelter from the storm.

Alfred P. Carlton Jr. is the president of the American Bar Association and a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton; he is based in the firm's Raleigh, N.C., office.

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