Former Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, reflecting on her early
years as a citizen in South Africa, uses a metaphor to explain the
importance of the rule of law. "When you are breathing oxygen, you
don't notice it; when you cut off the supply, you will notice it
Professor "Mo" Cunningham, the renowned scholar and chairman of
the Political Science Department at the University of Massachusetts
Boston (and a former Suffolk County assistant district attorney),
paraphrasing President Abraham Lincoln's comments at a time when
the rule of law was crumbling, instructs us that "our political
religion must respect the law" and our judicial system or "society
will come crumbling down."
With dysfunctional courts, he warns, "we are going to reach that
point." And, serving as the apostle of the obvious, Cunningham
tells us that "there is a point where you just can't tighten your
belt any longer, we're at it right now."
For most of us, the American judicial system has been one of the
few constants throughout our lives. Courts and the judges who sit
in them have been models of stability, equipoise and scholarship.
When political leaders like Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus prohibited
African-American children from entering Central High School in
Little Rock or Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett and the trustees of
the University of Mississippi blocked James Meredith from
matriculating, our courts and judges righted those wrongs.