Justice Robert Thomas on the Loss of Faith in American Legal System, How to get it Back.

Justice Robert Thomas on the Loss of Faith in American Legal System, How to get it Back.

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well thank you Rick and thanks to the is PA and Dan CBA for hosting this event that had been the 14 of these it's an honor to be here Maggie were you listening to that introduction in August now no now normally I would begin my remarks with a light-hearted story that introduces the theme of my talk the story would probably involve my time with the Chicago Bears and it would almost certainly be self-deprecating that's the standard approach I used when I speak and people seem to enjoy it and no doubt many of you have heard just such a speech for me maybe even at this very event but not tonight tonight I'm not going to be light-hearted or funny or self-deprecating I'm not going to tell jokes and I'm not going to cause for laughs because tonight I want to talk about something that is deeply serious something that impacts not only our profession but also our nation and something that calls for a response a response not so much in words or any action but rather in attitude in posture in perspective as we gather tonight our nation is suffering a crisis of trust no one can deny this and unlike previous seasons of uncertainty this one seems to penetrate every sphere of life politically the country is split right down the middle on a whole host of issues with both sides convinced that they are right and neither side looking for or even inviting compromise this is true of immigration reform our response to Isis the health care law same-sex marriage abortion I'm each of these issues and on many anymore the country is deeply divided with no room to meet in the middle but not only at that on each of these issues both sides are convinced that they are on the losing side so that the resulting dynamic is not one of winners and losers but one in which everyone feels like his or her values his or her issues are being marginalized the last time that more than fifty percent of americans believe the country was heading in the right direction was june of 2009 both globally and domestically the Ebola crisis as many Americans wondering whether we are adequately prepared for an epidemic outbreak be it halfway across the world in Liberia or just three states away in Dallas and whether in wondering whether the existing protocols are sufficiently safe and sufficiently rehearsed to ensure that any unexpected outbreaks are contained and controlled rather than multiply and spread financially we face a crisis of confidence in the future most especially with respect to retirement whether it's social security medicare 401ks or pensions many of us are wondering whether the system that's in place is sustainable and whether the retirement we plan and expected for will be there in the time when the time comes institutionally poll after poll confirms that we as Americans have very little confidence and our leaders Congress's disapproval rating has hovered steadily above seventy percent for the last three years and President Obama's disapproval rating is now consistently above fifty percent but even more telling is this historically Americans have tended to hold Congress as an institute in very low esteem while holding their own local representative in very high esteem in other words the problem is that my congressman it's everyone else's congressman not anymore earlier this year an ABC News poll confirmed that for the first time in the 25-year history of that pole more than half the country disapproves not only if Congress as an institution but also of their own local representative this has never happened before and it is deeply illustrative of the crisis of trust we are facing and then there is Ferguson and Ferguson is unique among all the situation's I've described because at the heart of Ferguson is the system that you and I serve when Trust barracks down in Washington or on Wall Street that's important and that's unfortunate but there's not a whole lot you and I can do directly in response we can't restore trust and move things forward because we are not in Washington and we are not on Wall Street but we do serve the legal system and that system is at the heart of the Ferguson crisis and there is no question that for many in our country trust in the legal system in the system you and I serve as broken down look at what we've been seeing protester is taken to the streets by the thousand with slogans like hands up don't shoot black lives matter and the system didn't fail it worked that's the problem students at our elite law schools including Harvard Berkeley and Penn Station walkouts and diane's to protest the grand jury's refusal to indict calls for systemic criminal justice reforms from voices as diverse as President Obama and Senator Rand Paul yes Ferguson was the catalyst for the current wave response what what's clear is that Ferguson did not cause the underlying mistrust and resentment on the contrary the events of the past months and even more of the past weeks are born of a deep division a deep mistrust that exists in our country and though that division is now boiling over the reality is that it's always simmering just beneath the surface just waiting for a Michael Brown a Trayvon Martin and Eric garner to release it we will never know what exactly transpired on that tragic night in Ferguson there is no video footage and the eyewitness accounts tell a variety of stories but even if we know never know exactly what happened that night the events that have followed teach us a great deal about what is going on in our country right now they teach us that racial division and racial mistrust is still very much a part of the American landscape they teach us that in many parts of America Trust is broken down completely between the community and the police and that for many the appearance of law enforcement provokes not comfort or security but rather suspicion and fear they teach us that too many in our community the criminal justice system appears riggs existing not to ascertain truth or dispense justice but instead to punish the week and protect the powerful but most of all they teach us once again that in so many areas of life race crime poverty class justice there seems to exist to very different America's defined by two very different perspectives and populated by people who do not understand and do not trust either each other or the institutions that shape and govern life in the United States and we can talk all night about who is right and who is wrong about who gets it and who doesn't about who's been vision of America is true and whose vision of America is false in the cable news channels will do exactly that every night keeping the conversation going but never moving it forward but when Trust is broken down conversations about who is right and who is wrong about who gets it and who doesn't our fruitless because no one is listening to each other anymore and each side simply assumes that the other side is motivated not by a good faith pursuit of truth but rather by an agenda or by prejudice or even by malice so what do we do how do we respond to a situation like this to an overwhelming breakdown in trust in the very system we serve in the new testament book of James the Apostle writes consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance and let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything at the heart of this passage is the idea that it is not the trials we face the definers but rather how we respond to those trials when they come because in our response our character is revealed and we learn perhaps for the first time who we really are what we truly believe where we put our hope and trust and as I see it there are two possible responses to the current prices we can choose cynicism and despair or we can choose hope in cynicism and despair we resign ourselves to the status quo expect the worst and look out for ourselves we surround ourselves with people who see things the same way we do and we turn our backs to those whose experiences and perspectives challenge or even threat their own cynicism and despair are about preserving and surviving rather than growing and healing they're about not letting things get worse rather than striving to make things better they're about hunkering down rather than reaching out so yes we can choose cynicism and despair and in fact many of us do but we can also choose hope and hope as you would expect looks very different in hope we intentionally and regularly remind ourselves daily if necessary of the ideals and principles that inform the system we serve and we commit ourselves over and over again to ensuring that those ideals and principles are realized and vindicated in every case that crosses our desk we commit ourselves to ensuring that to the extent that is within our power the shadow of injustice inequality or corruption never taints the work we ourselves do and we commit ourselves to ensuring that the laws set forth and the Constitution and passed by the legislature actually means something that the private contracts we enter into are worth the consideration that was exchanged and that right set forth on paper are not just empty promises incapable of enforcement or vindication by a neutral tribunal but instead are real tangible things that are never out of reach and always ours to enjoy it has been said that the law is a teacher that through its mandates and prescriptions society is a schools in what is right and what is wrong what are the acceptable standards of human behavior what are the rules defining and governing profit proper human interaction our task our responsibility is to ensure that the law is a good teacher and in moments such as this when Trust breaks down to respond in such a way that the best angels of our nature are reflected not on in the laws words but also in its enforcement and application every time no exceptions in his letter from Birmingham jail dr. Martin Luther King jr. teaches us that a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God and unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law any law that uplifts human personality is just any law that degrades human personality is unjust I believe that in these words we find the fuel for ensuring that we never lose hope and what we do in the system we serve or in the awesome potential each of us has to make a difference for good in the very first chapter of Genesis we are taught that God created humanity in his own image and while this means many things it at least means that each of us from the most powerful to the most vulnerable from the law abiding to the law breaking bears bears within us somewhere somehow the image of our Creator that whatever else separates us that truth that identity always unites us and I think this idea is what informs dr. King's vision of human personality and is what he has the law to uplift and affirm rather than degrade or two days because imagine if we as neighbors and citizens attorneys and judges truly perceived one another in the terms that dr. King invites not with suspicion or indifference or alienation but with unity and trust and affection because we are all of one source and despite our super Vishal and temporary differences we are in fact perfectly united in a deep and profound and eternal way I have no doubt that a society informed this understanding of humanity would be a society defined by dignity inequality a society in which degradation in despair simply had no place because in uplifting each other we are uplifting the God who created us in the opening paragraphs of that same letter dr. King writes that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly never again can we afford to live with the narrow provincial outside agitator idea anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds as we gather tonight our nation is suffering a crisis of trust as officers and agents of the law our response must not be to give in to that sense of mistrust to give in the cynicism and despair instead our challenge our responsibility is to recognize that we are indeed caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny and to use the awesome privilege we have been given as attorneys and judges to ensure that whatever the perception of the law and legal system might be it is always and only ever fair equitable and just in practice and to the extent each of us plays a part in making that happen I hope and expect that the justice we pursue and the justice we bring will be utterly unimpeachable that is what hope and trust demand and it is the very least we owe to one another thank you're watching the Illinois channel an independent nonprofit corporation form to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of Illinois state government and other public affairs events taking place across Illinois

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