Driving to court this morning for a pro bono appearance, my Blackberry buzzed with the headline that DOMA had been struck down. Concurrently, the song “Fight the Good Fight” was playing on the radio. Indeed.
In France, there were violent protests in the streets when the issue was up for a vote. Here, some folks give a shrug and a “meh” to today’s news. Later, when the Court effectively struck down Prop 8, people in California began pilgrimages to their local courthouses or civic centers to look into getting married. It is indeed a great day to be an American….
We lawyers often forget that ours is indeed a noble profession. Rather than take up arms, we take up Redwelds and fight the good fight in a court of law. Two or more litigants present their side of a case and a decision is handed down. In the best scenarios, the decision is reasoned, intelligent and quite frankly, unavoidable. Usually, though, there is more to a case, and the decision is borne of difficult debate, long hours of research, and careful writing and reasoning. I am honored to have served as a federal law clerk twice in my career. It was truly the best job I have ever had. The issues were not always Earth-shaking, but the fact that there were real people at either end of a case always kept me honest when discussing the issues with the judge. This perspective started for me when I worked for Judith Sheindlin in NYC Family Court. Nowhere is the importance of an effective bar and judiciary more poignantly represented than through the eyes of innocent children who are in the “system.” It is a noble profession.
Another rewarding pursuit in one’s career can be pro bono work. I have assisted prisoners, divorcing spouses with children, and most memorably, foreign refugees seeking asylum in our country. I cherish the memory of the Balkan war refugee family who, when granted asylum, surrounded me with hugs and tears of gratitude. I was not an expert in international law, or the process of asylum seeking in America; I was simply doing the right thing, and yes, it felt ennobling.
Sometimes in this profession, and to a larger extent, this Country, the right and correct “thing” is done. It comes with a palpable sense of peace and pride. Taking away the religious beliefs, the political rancor, the ignorance, and the plain hate that can surround issues such as gay marriage — when allowed to legally exist as the law of the land, the profession shows its nobility. Allowing two men or two women to legally enjoy the rights that I enjoy with my wife makes our country a better place. Just as allowing Justice Thomas the right to marry his wife of a different race allowed the country to be that much better, and just as allowing people of different races to share bathrooms and water fountains achieved nobility, so has the Supreme Court this day.
The country is not perfect, and there are many issues that divide us still. But today, for a day at least, the right thing was done. And it was done without guns or violence –- it was done by learned people who argued vociferously and passionately that they were correct. And through the arguments, and after careful consideration, the right answer was found. Nobly and with honor today, we can rise tomorrow to turn back to the usual and mundane issues of practicing law. But with one more block in the wall of “good.”
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at [email protected].