Vandenberg to celebrate Law Day
By Capt. Scott Taylor, 30th Space Wing Legal Office
/ Published April 26, 2011
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Vandenberg Legal Office will be celebrating and promoting the upcoming Nationwide Law Day on May 1. This year, lawyers around the country are remembering John Adams and the lessons we can learn from his great career. Despite living in tumultuous times where passions often ruled public opinion, John Adams advocated the rule of law, taking unpopular positions when necessary to do what was right, and ultimately attained the highest office in the land by becoming our Nation's second President. His downfall and withdrawal from public life are a reminder to all of the dangers inherent when we throw away our ideals for the immediacy of the moment.
John Adams was a vocal advocate against the hated Stamp Act which sought to tax all printed materials. As Adams contributed articles against the Stamp Act and spoke out against it, tensions rose to a boiling point. Violence ultimately erupted in 1770 when British soldiers killed five civilians in what soon came to be known as the Boston Massacre. The British Officer and Soldiers involved were arrested and charged with murder. Adams reluctantly agreed to represent them fearing it might hurt his growing reputation. Adams' representation is now celebrated as a triumph of the rule of law. Six of the soldiers were acquitted. The remaining two soldiers were charged with murder, but were only convicted of manslaughter. John Adams is a real life example of a lawyer applying the rule of law to do what is right despite having to take a very unpopular stance. His example is now a part of our popular culture, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or almost any John Grisham novel.
John Adams continued to protest against British tyranny, and his popularity grew as a lawyer and statesman as he was appointed to the first and second continental congresses. Adams was one of the five drafters of the Declaration of Independence, and was consistently an advocate for Independence and Republicanism. John Adams served as Vice President for two terms to our Nation's first President, George Washington, and was later elected as his successor, becoming our Nation's second President in 1797. Adam's Presidency was marred by his signage of the Alien and Sedition Act. The Alien and Sedition Act was passed by Congress as an attempt to weaken the opposition party and is best known for making it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the Government or its officials. Though Adams was not involved in creating the bill, he did sign it in to law. The lessons of the Alien and Sedition Act are a stark reminder of the corrupting influence of power and the failure of even the best of us to live up to our ideals. Adams' re-election campaign became a bitter contest, which he ultimately lost to Thomas Jefferson. Following his defeat, Adams refused to attend Jefferson's inaugural address and retired into private life.
John Adams, for all his triumphs and shortcomings is great example of modern day lawyers. In a world ruled by a 24-hour news cycle, and a constant bombardment of advertisements from class action lawyers trying to make a quick buck, it is easy to be cynical about lawyers. Everyone has a lawyer joke on hand when the need arises, and to be certain there are several of us that are very vocal about giving lawyers a bad name. Despite what you see on television, lawyers do not spend every day in tense drama filled courtrooms solving murders before the jury's eyes. We also do not leave a swath of destruction in our path removing all fun and joy from the world. The majority of lawyers strive to follow the legacy of John Adams. We advocate for our clients, we enforce laws, we protect the downtrodden, and we stand against the wind and defend the indefensible. Lawyers take a certain amount of pride in having the courage to stand by your side when you need us most, when no one else will. Unfortunately, lawyers also follow the legacy of John Adams' downfall, as we are imperfect. And unfortunately sometimes the most imperfect amongst us are sometimes also the most vocal.
The JAG Corps is similar, but with the key difference that we are dual professionals. The JAG Corps consists of both military professionals and legal professionals bundled together into one. As an institution, we embrace the inspirational model of John Adams to sometimes stand against the wind and have the courage to do what's right. Sometimes that means giving unpopular advice to leadership, denying a legal request, or representing an Airman accused of a crime. As we celebrate Law Day, and reflect upon the example and lessons of John Adams, JAGs strive to emulate Adams' successes, and look to our military values and ethics to avoid his downfall. As military members, you can feel confident that the members of the Vandenberg Legal Office will have the courage to follow the rule of law to do what is right with whatever legal problem you come to us with. You can feel confident that a member of the JAG Corps will always be willing to stand against the wind for you should you ever need it.