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Jul 04 2011

On Independence Day Remember Atticus Finch

On July 4th, schoolkids across the country are rightly asked to remember Jefferson, Franklin and Adams for their role in drafting and forcing the passage of the Declaration of Independence. But I always like to recall the greatest trial lawyer ever invented – Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus was assigned to do the impossible get a black man acquitted of raping a white girl in the deep south in 1935. His summation (which was cut short in the wonderful film made of the book) is one of the best legal speeches in literature and a reminder that the great words of the Declaration (and the Constitution are only as great as the American citizens applying them in their daily lives. Here it is:

“Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the
distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling
at us . . .We know all men are not created equal in the sense some
people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others,
some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some
men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than
others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most
men.

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created
equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of
a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the
ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution,
gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United
States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court
which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human
institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers,
and in our courts all men are created equal.

I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts
and in the jury system- that is no ideal to me, it is a living,
working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of
you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its
jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am
confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the
evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this
defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”

Let it serve as reminder to all of us to do our duty. To keep and fulfill the promise made by those men long ago, who could never have foreseen what America would look like today, but who would still be proud of the nation they built and who would expect all of us to honor their foresight by treating everyone with dignity and respect and by providing to all the equal protection of our laws.

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