Law firms, business leaders and government officials have not been shy over the last week about speaking out against racism and white supremacists and what some characterize as President Donald Trump’s too little, too late remarks concerning the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that broke out during a white nationalist rally.
A number of firms have issued statements saying they support diversity and tolerance, joining strong critical statements from CEOs who President Trump for failing to quickly speak out against white supremacists.
But should individual lawyers in Texas speak out on the issues raised by the violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, or even President Trump’s remarks?
Mark Lanier, a trial lawyer in Houston at Lanier Law Firm, said that lawyers who have a platform have an obligation to express their views. He intends to speak out on Sunday when he teaches his Sunday School class at Champion Forest Baptist Church, His remarks will be streamed live on facebook.
“I think it’s appropriate. I think sometimes lawyers have to be careful they are not speaking out to make the lawyer look good, saying ‘Hey, look at me. I’m not a racist,’ ” he said.
But he said he believes it is appropriate also for lawyers who practice in the Charlottesville area, civil rights lawyers and lawyer/politicians.
Lanier, who is Republican and an evangelical Christian, said he plans to tell his Sunday School class that what happened in Charlottesville was tragic, and that it’s imperative that Christians be at the forefront of demanding that America not treat people poorly based upon race or economics. He said he will say that the Republican Party needs to treat humanity as God would.
“God trumps Trump on all of those issues,” Lanier said.
Lanier said he thought Trump’s Monday speech in which the President called racism “evil” and singled out the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups” was OK, but did not go far enough. And Trump’s remarks the next day were “absolutely horrendous,” Lanier said. On Tuesday, Trump placed equal blame on the white supremacists and the counterprotestors for the violence that left a 32-year-old woman dead.
He said Trump squandered an opportunity to stand up and speak out against extremism.
Prominent lawyers representing Trump and his family, including many who are Jewish, have largely not spoken out following the president’s remarks.
But two Jewish lawyers in Houston who are on the board of the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Region said lawyers should speak out against hate.
George Gibson, a shareholder at Nathan Sommers Jacobs in Houston, said the oath that lawyers take when becoming licensed obligates them to uphold federal and state constitutions, and with that, they have a role in educating the community.
“To me the values of the German Nazi Party, the values of the KKK, the values of those who believe one race is supreme against others, are all against the constitutions,” said Gibson, chairman of the board of the ADL Southwest Region.
Board member Nicole Soussan Caplan said lawyers absolutely should speak out against hate—and she has—but so should everyone.
“I don’t think this is an obligation or an outrage you leave to the legal community. Even though the legal community may be uniquely situated to do something about it, it is incumbent for all Americans to take a stand against hate, particularly neo-Nazism,” Caplan said.
Caplan, a senior associate with Reed Smith in Houston, said she was so upset by the events in Charlottesville that she took the unusual step of posting about her outrage on Facebook. She said she has often talked about fighting bigotry and hate when speaking for the ADL.
She is not worried that her efforts to condemn hate will harm her law practice.
“If I lost business by being outspoken on that issue, I don’t want that business to begin with,” she said, adding that her world view will not get in the way of her No. 1 focus of serving clients.
“I think it’s very, very easy, no matter what your political affiliation is or your background, to come out against hate,” she said. “I think the litmus test is a simple one.”
Caplan added that she respects the CEOs who criticized Trump for failing to quickly speak out against white supremacists, and also the law firms that have issued statements saying they support diversity and tolerance.
On Thursday the 11,000-member Dallas Bar Association and six related bar associations in Dallas issued a statement condemning the actions of “people identifying themselves or acting as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the like” in Charlottesville.