Comments from outgoing Brooklyn Law School President & Dean Nick Allard
Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister
“Last July my wife Marla and I paid our respects at the terribly moving and unforgettable military cemeteries in Normandy, France. At the very same time when we were touring the fearsome beaches and cliffs nearby, President Trump was in Paris. He was behaving oddly toward the French First Lady and, unexpectedly, seemed to me diminished in the presence of the young French president.
“Inexplicably, the commander-in-chief of America’s military might — the largest, strongest and most feared armed forces in the world — was acting as if the annual Bastille Day military parade celebrating the overthrow of the monarchy, national unity and the sacrifices made to preserve freedom, individual rights and equality was a parade in honor of his own despotic self-image.
“We could not fail to notice as we walked among the thousands of pristine white crosses and six-pointed stars that marked the graves of American soldiers, how incredibly young were most of the fallen. Indeed, the very first gravestone that we studied closely bore the name of a 17-year-old Jewish man from New York City who had died coincidentally on the very day of our visit 73 years before.
“Most of the other markers we viewed were of men and women of that age or hardly much older. It was indeed, by any measure, a heroic army of America’s youth. Many from this truly great generation made the ultimate sacrifice tor the future benefit of their families and people who they would never know.
“In that precise moment we felt the full weight of the magnitude of what is at stake in the epic struggle now underway in our nation and around the world for the heart and soul of our way of life and democracy. It is nothing less than a war over whether our cherished values and the ceaseless pursuit of justice, equality and peace through our limited form of constitutional self-government under the rule of law will endure. Or the historic systemic conflict will determine whether, instead, we will fall into a dark dystopian chaotic state of existence where the rule of law is replaced by outcomes determined by autocratic power, influence, force, ignorance, hatred, bigotry, immorality and happenstance.
“We both were simply overcome with the idea that it would be unforgivable to waste the enormous, selfless price paid by so many people in order to preserve and enhance democracy since the founding of our Republic, by failing today to engage fully with others to fight the good fight. We must act now, rather than after it is too late, and act well before the point faced by those brave souls of Operation Overlord when it had become almost impossible to secure the beachheads against the terrifying defenses of the barbarians who were overwhelming the citadels of democracy.
“At this very same moment, when we were taking in the import of the monumental fields of youthful soldiers, we were also filled with hope and pride. Hope, realizing how effectively our young people, like the young people of generations past, including recently, especially, young lawyers, are already taking their place at the front lines battling over the issues of our day to uphold the Constitution and rule of law. And, pride, realizing how our very own Brooklyn Law students, inspired and guided by our faculty and alumni and local practitioners, are not waiting until after they earn their degrees to jump into the controversies and to contribute.
“Last year, in the wake of the president’s first executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, several Brooklyn Law School professors and dozens of their law students descended on major area airports in support of ACLU lawyers who prepared a case to stay the ban in federal court. And, many of our students and faculty members were standing outside the U.S. Courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn on a cold January night, cheering with thousands of others as the lawyers bounded down the stairs with the court-ordered stay in their hands.
“Similarly, the recent round of sweeps across the country, designed to deport undocumented immigrants but affecting some legal residents as well, has tested further the laws of our nation and again put young lawyers and civic-minded law students center stage in what is sure to be a protracted and robust national debate. Our motivated activist future lawyers also championed ‘Black Lives Matter,’ #MeToo, Time’s Up, Parkland Strong, and other causes that touch their hearts using the power of a legally trained mind to make a difference. The participation of these newly minted lawyers and aspiring lawyers in what I see as an exciting and engaging national civics lesson inspires and energizes me to keep on pushing on.
“On that same Bastille Day last year, after the unity parade down the Champs Elysees, President Macron traveled south to Nice on the French Riviera. There he honored the memory of the hundreds of people killed and injured on the sad first anniversary of a terrorist madman driving a large truck through an unsuspecting, helpless holiday seaside crowd of pedestrians. This reminded Marla and me that here in America we are not alone in our problems, and the existentialist threats we face, ranging from climate change to pandemics to poverty to terrorist acts by vicious nonstate anarchists, make effective leadership at home and cooperation with civil societies abroad even more acutely necessary. This is hardly a time to withdraw and alienate the rest of the civilized world. Rather, it is a time to embrace and lead as America has done for so long.
“Perhaps you have heard about the political ad in a current congressional campaign that declares, ‘After 9-11 the greatest threat to America lived in a cave. Today, the greatest threat to America resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’ For many people, it is tempting and, at times, hard to resist agreeing with such a harsh sentiment, but it is simply untrue. Rather than fearing any one person, the greatest threat to our democracy is, with respectful apologies to Louis Brandeis in his famous Olmstead dissent, people born to freedom who fail to be alert and repel invasions of their liberty by evil-minded leaders. And yes, Justice Brandeis, we must also not fail to respond before it is too late to the gradual, cumulative erosion of freedom in the name of worthy purposes by people of zeal who lack understanding.
“At the dawn of the Cold War of my early childhood, George Kennan warned us about another most insidious challenge, a challenge that we still face today. In his stark, tough message about the Soviet threat, sent in his famous long telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Kennan argued for tough containment of communist expansionism. However, Kennan cautioned us to beware that in vigorously pursuing determined foes who abhor what we stand for and who seek to weaken and even destroy us, we must take care not to become like them.
“So, this is a time when the state of our country and our world should concern us all deeply. I have been preaching for so long to others about engaging in politics and policy that I find it is now a time, when I am able by circumstances to do so, to follow my own advice. By leaving the position I love as president and dean of Brooklyn Law School — and the heavy day-to-day duties of doing that job as well as one can — I will be freer to pursue many opportunities to have some impact, including immediate writing projects and speaking commitments planned for this summer.
“I am especially proud to know that our great school, which has leapfrogged into the forefront of sensible innovation, expanded its global footprint, continued its longstanding commitment to inclusiveness and quality, and is financially robust, will be left in capable hands which are more than up to the job of continuing the progress of the law school in the years ahead. In truth, when you consider that the interim dean is Professor Maryellen Fullerton, who has great national and international stature in the field of international public law, who literally wrote the two principal texts relied upon everywhere for immigration law, and who as chair of the faculty curriculum committee has spearheaded a snout-to-tail review and overhaul of how students will be taught even better for the full range of careers in the new world of law, well, in my opinion, the school is getting an upgrade at a very important time.
“It has become more than the best law school in Brooklyn, which as I have said for six years is in itself quite something. Now, more so than ever, it has become a school better than most and second to none in many critical respects. I have no plans to die, fade away, or go anywhere soon. So, I sincerely hope to continue to see and enjoy the company of the countless people who make it such a privilege to be part of the Brooklyn Law School community.”
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