I am a lawyer and have spent the last 35 years in a civil rights/civil liberties practice. I am being awarded the Roger Baldwin award by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey for “outstanding contributions to the protection and preservation of civil liberties principles.” This award has given me the opportunity to reflect on what I do and why I do it.
Many years ago, when I was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy I took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since then it is adherence to that oath which has guided my law practice and many other activities that I have been engaged in.
I believe that when the drafters of the first ten amendments to the Constitution said that “Congress shall make no law” restricting the rights of free speech, free press, freedom of religion and the right to petition for redress of grievances they meant every word. I believe that when they wrote that the people have a right to be secure in their persons and houses, and limited the ability of the government to search those places they spoke from bitter experience, and meant those words. And so with the remainder of the amendments. I believe that when they said that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, they meant those words, having lived under the yoke of a tyrannical regime . I believe that the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights apply to every human being in the United States.
I believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights embody values that are essential for a free society to function. I have traveled to many nations on almost every continent. Many nations have embodied similar principles in their constitution, and some have modeled their governing documents on our Constitution. What makes us unique among nations, and gives us our strength and legitimacy, is that in the social compact that binds us as a nation our body politic insists on adherence to the principles enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We may disagree among ourselves about how those rights should be interpreted, but we insist that our government shall deprive no one of those rights.
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