US law school deans commit to training advocates for democracy

Over 100 deans signed a letter focusing on the training needed to sustain constitutional democracy

US law school deans commit to training advocates for democracy

The American Bar Association (ABA) Task Force for American Democracy has unveiled a letter signed by over 100 deans from American law schools, emphasizing the training needed to sustain constitutional democracy and the rule of law.

These educators assert their dedication to preparing the next generation of lawyers to champion democracy through clinical work, public education, and advocacy.

In their letter, the deans commit to teaching law students the importance of respectful disagreement and open-minded engagement across partisan lines. ABA President Mary Smith highlighted the urgency of this initiative, stating, "Our democracy is under strain. Many citizens are not educated on the rule of law and basic democratic principles. The ABA Task Force is working to improve civics education to reconnect citizens with our democracy, the rule of law, and basic human rights."

Smith, who established the task force in August 2023, has focused her presidential term on protecting democracy. She described the letter as a national call to action for law schools and practising attorneys to uphold ethical standards and inspire future lawyers. The deans' letter arrives at a time when public confidence in democracy is waning, with only 28 percent of U.S. adults satisfied with its current state, according to a Gallup poll.

Despite this, law school enrollment figures offer hope, with 116,723 students enrolled in juris doctorate programs in 2022. This demonstrates a new generation's commitment to legal advocacy for democracy. The collaboration between the ABA Task Force and law school deans highlighted the critical need to address current challenges through joint efforts.

"The nation's law schools play a critical role in training the next generation of lawyers and upholding the core values of our profession. Through our joint efforts, we hope to set an example for our students as we prepare them to carry our democracy forward,” said Heather K. Gerken, Yale Law School dean and task force member.

With the 2024 election approaching, law students are actively participating in discussions about democracy and attending task force events in various states. Task force co-chair Jeh Johnson, former secretary of Homeland Security, emphasized that defending democracy is fundamental to legal education, urging future lawyers to understand and address these challenges.

Judge J. Michael Luttig, task force co-chair and retired federal judge, underscored the existential threat to America's democracy and the legal profession's vital role in defending it. "Lawyers are uniquely qualified and obligated to support and defend America's democracy. They must answer this call," Luttig stated. He encouraged lawyers to engage in volunteer participation in elections, pro bono services, policy advocacy, and community engagement to fulfil their professional duty.

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