Of all the impactful moments I’ve experienced on overseas CLE programs, one stands out above the rest. Our group of American lawyers was given a special tour of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (yes, they’ve had one for nearly ten years). We had visited the main courtroom– complete with an invitation to sit in the justices’ chairs– the Privy Council Chamber, the court’s suite of offices… and then, they offered to show us the law library. Even in the modern age, what with our easy access to millions of texts at our fingertips, it seems like all lawyers enjoy the atmosphere of a library, so it wasn’t a hard sell to get us to follow.
In front of us, inscribed in backlit glass, were some of the great maxims of the law. From Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, and St. Paul, even Disraeli. Prominent among them, though, was this, in part:
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
At the heart of Westminster, within the seat of Britain’s judicial authority, and just yards from the oldest legislative house on Earth, was Dr. King. It was– in the very literal sense– breathtaking. Here was quoted not only an American, but an American prisoner who conveyed his thoughts from an Alabama jail cell, his words the very first thing British justices see when they enter to study. The magnitude of this cannot be overstated.
This must be our creed, not only as Americans but as members of the wider human polity. We have to recognize that inescapable network of mutuality, lest our whole garment of destiny unravel.