Yesterday I sat with members of my family in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The court is located in an historic building that once housed the offices of Frederick Douglass and, well before his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s office is believed to have been in the southwest corner of the building where as Civil Service Commissioner he undertook reforms to create a modern government bureaucracy staffed with competent officials and to move away from the patronage, or “spoils” system for civil service. We were in the court to witness my niece’s admission to the DC Bar Association. The day was glorious, and surprising.
A striking smack of a gavel brought us all to attention at 2:29pm, just seconds before the presiding judges were introduced. After introductions and some formalities with the Clerk of Courts the Honorable Judge John R. Fisher started to talk. And talk he did. His words weren’t scripted or authoritative; they were heartfelt. One might even say that, in the context of the Court, Judge Fisher preached.
After acknowledging some pastoral formalities – the families and friends gathered in the courtroom, the hard work that the inductees had done to deserve the honor about to be bestowed upon them and their responsibility to uphold the Constitution – in short order Judge Fisher lamented lawyers whose modus operandi has in recent times become nasty, uncivil and not the way their dealings with one another should be or once were. He described at length the necessity of pro bono law practices, civic duty and ethics. Judge Fisher described the responsibility to serve “the least of us” despite the various specialties of the gathered young lawyers by saying that the court provides ongoing opportunities for them to learn how to defend and protect those who cannot protect themselves in the court of law. Judge Fisher’s words were an inspiration. He concluded by saying “thank you, congratulations and have a nice weekend.”
I hope that the young lawyers heard the sermon preached in that courtroom yesterday. I left the Court of Appeals proud of my family, of our country and of this beloved District of Columbia, a city where inspiration is ubiquitously carved in limestone, etched in marble and forged in bronze. Leaving the building I read the words “inequality anywhere means inequality everywhere.” May the beauty of our history, our monuments and the confessions emblazoned on them infect our hearts and forge in us a new love of justice and peace to the ends of the earth.
And may God bless America.