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Bar News - July 15, 2015

Opinion: Broderick: Lawyers Shape Society the Way Few Professions Can

Hon. John Broderick, Jr.
Editorís note: What follows is an excerpt from a speech given by John Broderick, former NH Supreme Court chief justice and UNH Law dean, at the NH Bar Association Annual Meeting on June 19 in Portsmouth, after he received a special NHBA Presidentís Award.

Two years ago I read a book entitled Devil in the Grove. It rightly won a Pulitzer Prize. It focused largely on Thurgood Marshallís trial years at the NAACP before the Brown case was ever decided. The book revealed a shameful part of American history where lynchings of African Americans were not uncommon and where courtrooms, at least when African Americans were charged with capital offenses, were often unjust. Indeed, Thurgood Marshall was almost lynched himself for his vigorous defense of a capital defendant. The book made clear that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, particularly in the South, a small segment of our society perpetrated lynchings while a broader segment tolerated them. Indeed, following a lynching young people were often paraded out in their Sunday best to be photographed at the feet of the corpse hanging limply from a tree limb.

In 2008, I traveled to Washington, DC, and stood with 1,500,000 of my closest friends on the Mall to witness the swearing in of the first African American president of the United States. I would have been nowhere else on that day.

After reading Devil in the Grove, I asked myself how it had been possible in less than 60 years to go from lynchings and cross-burnings to the administration of the presidential oath to an African American. The reason seemed clear to me: lawyers that stood up, spoke up and demanded change made that historic journey possible. Lawyers argued the cases, represented the defendants, challenged the laws and advocated that our Constitution be rightly applied, decided cases as judges, moved to change statutes from their legislative seats both in the states and the United States Congress. They also served in public positions as attorneys general at the state and national levels, and they occupied several executive mansions around the country, including the White House.

During those same 60 years, doctors, engineers and many other professionals were responsible for enormous growth and change in America and opened up new possibilities in American life. But as professions, they had little to do with the hard march from Selma to the White House and the historic moment at the United States Capitol that cold January morning when Barack Obama raised his right hand. But lawyers did. Without them 2008 would never have been possible. We should all be proud of our profession and recommit ourselves to its noble mission. Lawyers can change lives and change history in a way few professions can.

As I was coming here tonight thinking about my remarks, I was reminded of some of those lawyers I admired long ago and throughout their careers, some gone but others still among us showing the way. People like Fred Upton, Kimon Zachos, Bill Batchelder, Jack Middleton, John Tobin, David Souter, Joe Millimet, Norman Stahl and many others. I also think of Dave Nixon who, while fighting his last illness, was still fighting for people who needed a lawyer to secure a just result. These are the people we should continually honor, not through our words, but through our actions.

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