Lawyers Defend Constitution, Independent Judiciary
The crisis in Pakistan throws into stark relief the importance of the bench and bar in protecting the rule of law in a representative democracy. When voices (including a U.S. senator) attacked the U.S. federal courts for upholding legal precedent in the Terry Schiavo case--even hinting that the violence against judges was justified--national, state and local bar associations rightly condemned these attacks and rallied around the principle of an independent judiciary. However the lines formed by the American bench and bar did not have to face lines of riot police. In Pakistan, lawyers are in the streets, almost alone, to defend that nation's supreme court from measures designed to subvert the Pakistani constitution and neutralize the judiciary. (Their surest allies are the Pakistani press, another institution whose freedom is vital to a democratic state, but, like lawyers, are regularly villified in quieter times).
Now it would be easy to say, like Gen. Musharrif, that Pakistan is under seige by extremists who have no love of democracy and that this measure, in the long run, will allow democracy to return stronger. However, the lawyers of Pakistan know that adherence to the rule of law is not a luxury to be put away in times of crisis but in fact is the basis of a stable society. The Pakistan lawyers are to be commended and their example kept in mind as we in the U.S. continue to grapple with the issues of preserving our essential rights as we fight a long struggle against terrorism.
For extensive coverage of the Pakistan bar protests, see JURIST's Pakistan aggregator.