Reflections on Today’s Tragedy
posted by Aaron Zelinsky
I imagine that I may not be the only one in legal academia who feels frustrated and a bit adrift today. Here’s what I plan on saying to my Civil Procedure class in several minutes after observing a moment of silence. — Aaron
In moments like this, it often feels that the process we’re engaged in – the study of law – is a waste of time. After all, one of our country’s greatest cities has come under attack. Over 100 people are injured. SWAT teams are deployed up and down the Eastern Seaboard. And we’re about to spend the next 1.5 hours discussing issue preclusion and res judicata.
But I like to think that what we’re doing here is worthwhile. Because while we don’t know who attacked us today, we do know what separates us from them: a belief in human rights and the rule of law.
And even in civil procedure, these values shine through. In fact, some might say especially in civil procedure, where we consistently grapple with values like due process and individual rights.
When the President said earlier tonight that those who carried out this attack would be held “accountable” and would feel the “full weight of justice,” he was invoking the central ideals of our country and our legal system. And those ideals are reflected in what we are studying here.
Because while Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that it applies only to “civil actions,” it’s actually a bit wrong. Rule 1 tells us that the law that follows must be “construed and administered to secure the just [and] speedy . . . determination of every action and proceeding.” But this is true of so much more than just civil procedure. We’re talking about more than contract disputes or slip-and-falls.
Rule 1’s exhortation is about how to construe law generally — to reflect our fundamental values — and tells us a little bit about ourselves as a people and a nation. We are committed to a “just and speedy” determination of “every action and proceeding” – in that order. “Just and speedy.” And as in our nation, so in civil procedure: we don’t always get it right, but we always try to meet our noblest ideals.
So tonight, I hope we play some small part in what makes our country so special — as we do our tiny bit in moving forward the “full weight of Justice.”