Bennett Gershman gave a sweeping condemnation of the four types of lawyers that enabled former President Donald Trump’s subversion of the rule of law during a ceremony where he was awarded the Sanford D. Levy Professional Ethics Award by the New York State Bar Association.
First, Gershman, the distinguished professor of law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, talked about the roles that Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played in drafting the Muslim ban and child separation policy.
“Trump told them to come up with a justification so it could get through the Supreme Court,” Gershman said. “So of course, they used national security justification, which has been used throughout our history to justify some of the most egregious policies in our nation’s history.”
He noted that this defense was used after Pearl Harbor in 1941 to justify the forced eviction of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans from their homes into concentration camps.
When discussing Trump’s most recent attorney general, William Barr, Gershman called him Trump’s enabler-in-chief. He described Barr’s role as providing legal justification for the former president’s untrammeled exercise of power.
Gershman went on to excoriate Barr for his belief that the president’s motives cannot be questioned, even if they’re corrupt and self-serving, comparing Barr’s philosophy to that of Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer.
Frank infamously declared that the law was meant to serve the race and so what was good for the race was law. Gershman surmised that Barr believes the law was meant to serve Trump and so what was good for Trump was the law.
“Barr gave Trump cover for almost everything he did,” Gershman said. “From the clearing of peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., to the special dispensation he gave to Trump cronies like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.”
Another group of lawyers who enabled Trump were the ones who tried to help him overturn the election results. They include Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Rudy Giuliani and Kellyanne Conway.
And the last category was lawyers who advised Trump about ways to reverse the election. Gershman cited former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin who advised Trump that the vice president had the power to overturn the electoral college results as among this group.
“As I go through the litany of lawyers, it’s clear they command a lot of social influence and respect,” Gershman said. “Their pronouncements are powerfully destructive to the rule of law and our democracy.”
The Sanford D. Levy Professional Ethics Award is given annually by the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics.