Nearly 20 years ago, I asked the late William Kunstler about his philosophy of lawyering. A flamboyant leftist who proudly represented jihadists just as he proudly represented many other anti-American radicals, Bill succinctly replied, “Everybody’s entitled to a lawyer, but nobody’s entitled to me!”
When speaking with him outside the lines of litigation, I was always beguiled by the aging rogue’s lack of pretense. Kunstler maintained that attorneys are under no obligation to take on every client who walks in the door. Once you took a case, though, it was your duty to give it your all. And because giving his all and zealously ensuring that the client got every available advantage was the attorney’s first duty, a lawyer had to be given a lot of leeway in choosing the clients and causes to which he would dedicate himself. It was one of the few things on which we agreed.
In these chats, there was about Kunstler a refreshing absence of twaddle about the lofty nobility of his choices, a marked contrast to the drivel that flows from the pen of Conor Friedersdorf. At The Atlantic on Thursday, Mr. Friedersdorf delivered himself of what, even by his standards, was a shrill rant, provoked by my recent column on the hypocrisy of the Lawyer Left, which finds the American people’s support of traditional marriage too distasteful to defend but can’t queue up fast enough to volunteer its wares to assorted radicals, psychopaths, and deadbeats.
I used the occasion of King & Spalding’s abandonment of its Defense of Marriage Act clients — congressional representatives of the American people seeking to turn back challenges to DOMA — to highlight facts the legal profession, in its arrogance, dares you not to notice.
As an institution, the profession is the vanguard of the movement Left. Its votaries make their choices about representation based on progressive politics. Attorneys who are resistant to the cause but desperate to remain in the club are pressured to conform or at the very least to profess admiration for the heroic good faith in which the Lawyer Left remorselessly pursues its agenda. Thus can the profession reliably bank on cover from the GOP Lawyers Guild whenever a left-wing attorney gets nominated to a high government post or undertakes to champion some anti-bourgeois cause — and also bank on there being no need to return the favor.
K&S understands how the game is played. The firm wants to be perceived as supportive of gay marriage. In the same way, through its pro bono work for terrorists and death-row murderers, it wants to be perceived as supportive of judicializing warfare and expanding the rights of criminals. The firm figures it can’t afford to be on the wrong side of the culture war.
To most Americans, the progressive punch-list is deeply unpopular. Fortunately, progressives like Friedersdorf are much smarter than the rest of us — just like our progressive president, who, we learned from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank this week, is actually too smart to be president. Part of what makes them so smart is their Alinskyite penchant for coopting causes and language. Friedersdorf is a “conservative,” don’t you know, skilled at cloaking legal radicalism in high-minded tropes about fidelity to our constitutional traditions.
He is in a snit because, unlike the GOP Lawyers Guild he prefers, I can’t seem to follow the Gitmo script, which calls for showering the Lawyer Left with fawning praise that can be used like a Black Panther billyclub to beat down conservative critics. Specifically, Friedersdorf is outraged by my “brazen” repetition of an effective critique the Left thought it had smothered months ago: namely, that it is perfectly fitting to label as the “al-Qaeda Seven” a group of seven lawyers who, before joining the Obama Justice Department, volunteered their services to the enemy in wartime.
I don’t know where Friedersdorf was when the Lawyer Left was calling us Bushitler-era prosecutors “the American Taliban.” In any case, as I’ve made clear before, those who coined the term “al-Qaeda Seven” were obviously not saying these lawyers were members of al-Qaeda or that they endorsed terrorism — though they are, for my taste, too indifferent to the barbarity of terrorism. The point is that they made a choice to do something they did not have to do, that no lawyer had to do. It was therefore fair to judge them on their choice, to infer a sympathetic ear for the terrorist portrayal of a corrupt and unjust America. It was also reasonable to predict that, on their watch, the Justice Department would do things like return terrorism to a criminal-justice problem rather than a wartime military challenge, push for enhanced due process for terrorists, turn the battlefield into a crime scene complete with Miranda warnings for captured combatants, and elevate “Muslim outreach” over aggressive enforcement against Islamist groups that materially support terrorists. (Guess what happened.)