by Harper Estes

Aristotle aptly said, "Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice he is the worst of all." History has proven the truth of this statement time and time again. The importance of the Rule of Law to each of us is difficult to articulate and easy to take for granted. However, to remain a free society, we must strive to understand its importance and continually remind one another not to take it for granted. It is interesting that immigrants and the children of immigrants are often the least likely to forget the importance of the Rule of Law because they have some understanding of what it means to live without such protection.

Stephen Zack, president-elect nominee of the American Bar Association, is one such immigrant. His family fled Cuba for the United States in 1961 and Steve saw firsthand what happens when the Rule of Law breaks down. In 1960, the Cuban Constitution was identical to that of the United States. As Steve reflected in remarks to the American Bar Association House of Delegates, "Constitutions are words, only words, unless those words are understood, the obligations are accepted by the citizens, and the liberties protected."

Steve related that his grandfather was twice a refugee — first, leaving Russia for Cuba early in the 20th century to avoid religious persecution and again leaving Cuba late in life. In spite of these hardships, Steve's grandfather, at the time of their departure from Cuba, expressed hope for the future. Steve asked his grandfather how he could be optimistic at such a time and recalled his grandfather's reply: "He said he was going to America and he knew he would never be a refugee again because if America fell there would be no place else to go." Steve said those were words he would never forget — nor should we.

Liberty that is secured by law can be lost quickly as was the case with Cuba in the 1960s. No less tragic however would be an incremental loss that occurs over years or even decades. It would be arrogance on our part to believe that our constitution could not become mere words if we, the people, are not willing to do our part to ensure its continued existence as a way of life. Those of us who are privileged to practice law are the guardians — but not the owners — of the Rule of Law. It is a gift our forefathers left to all the people and each of us has a stake in protecting, nurturing, and sustaining our constitutional form of government.

Your role may be as simple as showing up for jury duty, becoming or remaining an informed voter, and fostering respect for our system of justice. We can each play a part in insisting that we educate all Americans about our constitutional form of government and insisting on adequate funding and support for the third branch of government, the judiciary.

Albert Einstein said, "As long as I have any choice, I will stay only in a country where political liberty, toleration, and equality of all citizens before the law are the rule." We have such a choice. Together we must work to secure these freedoms for this and future generations. As we celebrate Law Day 2009, I ask you to consider your part in fulfilling our obligations so that our constitution will always be more than just words.

For more information and resources regarding education on the Rule of Law and its importance to all citizens, visit www.texasbar.com/justicefortexas.

Harper Estes is president of the State Bar of Texas. He is a lawyer and mediator in Midland.