Dean Trevor Morrison released a message to NYU Law students on January 7 about the violence in Washington, DC:
Like many of you, I was appalled to watch yesterday as an angry mob stormed the Capitol, intent on disrupting the counting of electoral college votes and on undermining the peaceful transfer of power in this country. This hostile occupation of the halls of Congress, unprecedented since the War of 1812, would be deeply disturbing under any circumstances. The undeniable role of the current President in egging it on makes it all the more shameful and dangerous. Yet it is not partisan to observe, as Senator Romney did last night, that what happened at the Capitol yesterday was “an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.” I am horrified by the accuracy of those words.
Peaceful protest and dissent are important elements of a vibrant democracy, regardless of one’s views. Political candidates unhappy with the conduct of an election have legally available avenues to raise challenges and pursue certain remedies. Yesterday’s mob violence was none of that. It crossed a line that every constitutional democracy—and every one of its leaders—must pledge to respect and enforce. Of course, lawless violence of any kind is wrong. But when it is used to undermine the operation of government, to intimidate elected representatives, and to further the campaign of losing electoral candidates, violence is especially dangerous and odious. It is antithetical to principles of democratic self-governance, and it cannot be squared with the values underlying the Constitution. We should expect responsible authorities to investigate yesterday’s assault on the Capitol thoroughly, and to pursue serious charges where warranted.
These events did not come out of nowhere. They were cultivated not just by the President himself but by others, including a member of Congress who suggested that if courts will not uphold the President’s various challenges to the election, the alternative is violence in the streets. And it was encouraged by others working on the President’s behalf, including one of his lawyers who yesterday told a crowd near the Capitol that “trial by combat” was a good way to settle the election. Upon admission to the bar, lawyers take an oath to support the Constitution. In addition to being just plain wrong, urging violence to resolve political disputes is a betrayal of that oath and should be condemned as such.
As we move forward from yesterday’s attacks, there will be much to do. It sounds trite to say, but it is nevertheless true that democracy takes work. Much of that work requires lawyers. Even in the best of times, lawyers have a special obligation to uphold the rule of law, to defend the core values of democracy, and to seek justice for all. That obligation is all the greater now. Whatever your political views, as future lawyers you will have the opportunity to fortify the institutions of our democracy even as you hold them to account for their failings. You will have the chance to promote a culture of robust debate, disagreement, and dissent on matters of justice, equality, and fairness within the bounds of the law and without resort to violence and intimidation. You can help ensure that yesterday does not happen again. That work starts today and it will not end. In the coming years, we will be counting on you to lead us.
Stay safe and take care of each other.
Posted January 8, 2021