Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., a distinguished professor at Harvard Law School and its first black faculty dean, has been embroiled in controversy since he decided to provide legal counsel to Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who is facing criminal rape allegations. Following protests, graffiti, and online feedback forms from students, Harvard University has decided to remove Ronald S. Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, from their positions as deans of Winthrop House. This news has implications that stretch far beyond college campuses. When Harvard’s best and brightest get their diplomas, what attitudes will they bring towards due process, a bulwark against mob rule and arbitrary justice?
These Harvard students conflate Professor Sullivan’s decision to represent a client with tolerance for the crimes for which the client is accused. This rationale—that legal counsel equates with sympathy—is a radical break from the tradition of due process. Such logic ignores the Constitution, whose 6th Amendment stipulates the right to representation for all persons accused of a crime. Plenty of heinous individuals have enjoyed the same rights as Weinstein: Clarence Darrow, a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, defended Leopold and Loeb; John O’Connell represented Ted Bundy; O.J. Simpson assembled the Dream Team; and the Allies provided lawyers for the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Not far from Harvard University, John Adams represented British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. It is in the treatment of its worst enemies that one sees the true measure of a civilization.
If Americans cease to believe in the rights of the accused and the principle that even the most morally repugnant individuals deserve a fair and open trial, the rule of law has effectively reached an end. If lawyers can successfully be shamed and pressured away from representing those who are legally entitled to counsel, we can look to the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China for a vision of what to expect.
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