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Agostinho J. Ribeiro
Agostinho J. Ribeiro
Attorney • (800) 887-8529

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

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“The first thing we do,” said Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “let’s kill all the lawyers.”

This line, while often misquoted today in an effort to mock lawyers, is in fact high praise for what a lawyer’s true role in society is, and must continue to be. The original meaning of this quote was that lawyers needed to be eliminated, according to this sinister character, because during Shakespeare’s time, lawyers were the protectors of the truth. Only by their removal, could this character, and his villainous companion, accomplish the evil schemes which they were concocting during this scene.  This illustrates the very important role that lawyers played in society during Shakespearean time. Lawyers were essential to society as they acted as the ultimate guardians standing in the way of tyrannical regimes by promoting the independent thinking which forms the foundation of our basic liberties.

In the face of constant lapses by governmental and regulatory agencies, who are auspiciously charged with ensuring the safety and welfare of the public, lawyers today are the civil police of our society.  For example, if it weren’t for the lawyers who intervened in the General Motors Faulty Ignition Switch scandal, millions of Americans would still be driving around in dangerous and deadly GM vehicles. It was the lawyers, and not the regulators, who went to bat for the American people against General Motors to stop them from valuing profits over safety, after the NHTSA had repeatedly failed to take action in the face of growing evidence on this issue.

Consider also the overwhelming power of big pharmaceutical companies to force FDA approval of unsafe drugs through their lobbying efforts. Pharmaceutical companies spend an average of $1 billion per drug on each new medication for which they seek approval, knowing the payoff will be tenfold. This approval is often achieved by hiring former FDA employees to assist the Big Pharma companies in cajoling the FDA screening panels into passing the drug through regulatory proceedings.  Rod Rothstein, the US Attorney for Maryland who prosecuted one of the largest criminal cases involving fraud by an insider FDA employee, noted that “healthcare is particularly attractive to criminals because so much turns on government regulatory approval.” Who else can keep big corporate interests in check and hold violators of our civil rights accountable? No one other than lawyers.  The same lawyers who sometimes frustrate us with their “legal jargon” are the very protectors against this corporate greed and extremism.

Lawyers must also now step up to the plate and recognize their role in the Democratic society in encouraging an informed election of our next presidential candidate. The Federal recognition of gay marriage rested on a 5-4 margin in the Supreme Court, as did many landmark decisions such as a woman’s right to choose (Roe v. Wade), making it the most polarized Court in many generations. Should a Republican president and congress be elected, they will surely need to garner favor with the ever-influential Tea Party extremists.  Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said recently that she would not support an amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.  Neither she, nor any Republican, will commit to selecting a Supreme Court justice who will uphold gay marriage and Roe v. Wade.  If one or more of the present Supreme Court justices are replaced by a Republican president, with no checks and balances from the Senate, the Court could revisit and undermine the very basic underpinnings of our Country’s  social programs such as social security and medicare.

The next President will change the future of the Supreme Court for generations.  By the middle of the next president’s term, Supreme Court Justices Ginsberg, Scalia, Kennedy and Breyer will all be in their 80’s.  If Hillary Clinton is elected president and is able to replace these Justices, she will be able to lock down a progressive Supreme Court for many decades to come.  This new Court would cement Roe v. Wade and reverse Citizens United which allows big corporations and billionaires to lurk in the shadows and influence legislation by allowing for limitless political contributions.

The majority of people in our country will not think to focus on the Supreme Court as an issue that needs immediate attention.  I strongly urge that the lawyers and legal community in each state take a proactive role in educating their clients and community about these issues. As lawyers, we do not have the technical expertise to opine on the economy and job growth like economists, nor can we explain climate change like scientists.   However, as lawyers, we have all studied Supreme Court jurisprudence in first year law school and must understand how presidents and politics have influenced the law throughout our nation’s history. We must use our own legal expertise to help discern what civil liberties could be at stake in the next election, and how they relate to and are an ever-fluid product of the functions of the Judicial and Executive branches. We must uphold our obligation to the U.S. Civil Justice System and offer our opinions on these issues.

We must use our trained, professional, unified voice to protect the future of our citizens. Just as in Shakespearean  times, we cannot now allow extremist movements and corporate interests to “kill” independent thinking and overthrow our most basic and fundamental democratic values.

Who would you trust more to appoint fair-minded judges and Supreme Court Justices: Hillary Clinton or a Republican ?