A group of “leading conservative lawyers”—a phrase never confused with “U.S. Marines”—has produced an embarrassingly pompous letter denouncing Liz Cheney for demanding the names of attorneys at the Justice Department who formerly represented Guantanamo detainees.
The letter calls Cheney’s demand “shameful,” before unleashing this steaming pile of idiocy:
“The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’ representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre.”
Yes, but even John Adams didn’t take a job with the government for another 19 years after defending the British guards—who, in 1770, were “the police.” He also didn’t take a position with the U.S. government that involved processing British murder suspects.
I’d be more interested in hearing about the sacred duty of lawyers to defend “unpopular clients” if we were talking about clients who are unpopular with anyone lawyers know.
Every white shoe law firm in the country has been clamoring to take the cases of Guantanamo detainees, while young associates line up to be put on the case. This is even more fun than defending Ted Bundy!
As The Wall Street Journal put it in a 2007 article, a list of the law firms representing Guantanamo detainees “reads like a who’s who of America’s most prestigious law firms”—which conveniently doubles as Santa’s “naughty” list.
The terrorists’ lawyers have included Shearman and Sterling, Arnold & Porter; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr; Covington & Burling; Hunton & Williams; Sullivan & Cromwell; Debevoise & Plimpton; King & Spalding; Cleary Gottlieb, Morrison & Foerster; Jenner & Block; O’Melveny & Myers and Sidley Austin.
At least 34 of the 50 largest firms in the United States have performed pro bono work on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
Years ago, when I nearly died of boredom working for a law firm, I heard whispered rumors about a partner, Michael Tierney, whom none of the female associates wanted to work with because his pro bono work included defending—gasp!—pro-life groups. (There was at least one female associate who wanted to work with him!)
I didn’t hear a peep about the august “American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients” back then.
Like Hollywood actresses, lawyers need to believe they’re noble and courageous to help them forget that they are corporate drones doing soul-destroying work, which mostly consists of making photocopies.
Defending terrorists gives status-conscious attorneys a chance to get standing ovations at the annual ABA convention—much like promoting “global warming” makes climatologists feel like they’re saving the world, rather than studying water vapor.
It took me exactly one Nexis search for “ABA,” “award” and “Guantanamo” to find that the 2006 “Outstanding Scholar Award” at the ABA annual banquet was given to New York University law professor Anthony G. Amsterdam for his “extensive pro bono practice, litigating cases that range from civil rights claims, to death penalty defense, to claims of access to the courts for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”
A rule I have is: You’re not defending an unpopular client if you’re getting awards from the ABA, particularly if the award mentions “courage.”
You’ll never see a pompous letter like the one attacking Liz Cheney on behalf of any lawyer defending clients who are unpopular with lawyers, which terrorists are not.
Ken Starr, a signatory to the “Please God, Let This Get Me a Good Obituary in The New York Times” letter, once, totally by mistake, had a case unpopular with the establishment: Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
He’s shown his mettle by saying that if he met Clinton today, he’d say “I’m sorry.” Because isn’t that what Jesus said? Be very concerned with the opinion of the world!
Speaking of which, I also never heard any testimonials to the sacred duty of lawyers to defend unpopular causes when every lawyer working on the Clinton impeachment was being smeared as a “tobacco lawyer.”
Tobacco companies, being wildly unpopular, are in need of a lot of legal services. Scratch any litigator from a big law firm and you’ll find someone who, if necessary, could be slimed as a “tobacco lawyer.”
You will notice a pattern developing: We only hear paeans to the “American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients” when it’s being used to defend causes popular with liberals—serial killers, terrorists and a horny hick who promised to save partial-birth abortion.
Lawyers want to be congratulated for their courage in defending “unpopular” clients, while taking cases that are utterly noncontroversial in their social circles.
They’d be scared to death to take the case of an anti-abortion activist. Defending the guy who killed George Tiller the Baby Killer won’t make them a superstar at the next ABA convention.
Not only do Americans have a right to know the legal backgrounds of lawyers setting detainee policy at the Department of Justice, but I personally demand the right not to have to listen to Eddie Haskell lawyers constantly claiming to be Atticus Finch.