“He is not a moral man,” a friend of mine said, in reference to a prominent attorney of our mutual acquaintance. It took me aback for a moment. Not because I questioned the assessment. Rather, because it opens the door to a flood of the kind of jokes people love to make about lawyers … often enough, with good reason.
What struck me was the great sadness with which my friend, himself an attorney, made his statement. It was not an accusation, but a sad recognition that a man vested with playing a prominent part in some of the most crucial legal questions of our time was not, at bottom, basing his decisions and participation on any deep-down commitment to eternal principles or abiding truths. He just does, presumably, “what he thinks is right.”
Many – maybe most – would be hard-pressed to find fault with that. Trouble is, it makes right and wrong less about right and wrong and more about feelings and instincts. My morality, then, is not about anything bigger than myself. My decisions are no longer grounded in truth, because there is no such thing as “truth.” There’s just what I feel. What I think. What I decide.
In the end, then, the great decisions of life come down not to integrity, but arrogance. Pride. I lay those questions at the altar of my own ego.
That’s a particular disastrous idolatry for someone who practices law – as an attorney, a clerk, or a judge – because the law is, at root, an agreed-upon morality. People don’t like to think that. Something deep in our nature rebels at the thought of someone else deciding what’s right or wrong, be that someone God or a legislature or a majority at the polls. “You can’t legislate morality,” folks will tell you. But, of course, in the end, you can’t legislate anything else.
Indeed, the ultimate objective of the law is to establish the moral code of a community. There’s really no other reason to go to all the trouble of creating a law in the first place if not to ingrain in the minds of a people the idea that certain things are right or wrong.
“The law is a great teacher,” says Dr. Frank Turek. “Whatever is legal, people think is moral, and whatever is illegal, people think is immoral. Laws change hearts and attitudes.”
That’s an extraordinary responsibility … one not worthy of any attorney or judge whose sense of right and wrong is no bigger than his own personal lights and inclinations.
A lawyer who is not moral is something very akin to a doctor who is not compassionate. He may be capable, technically, of doing the job, but why would he want to? What satisfaction can there ultimately be for a physician in helping people whose well-being he cares nothing about?
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.