U.S. Attorney William (Bill) Killian said Wednesday evening during a Law Day message that without established justice, then domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare would not be possible.
“We could not secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity because we would have nothing to secure nor pass down to our descendants,” he told a crowd of about 60 people in the Bradley County Courthouse. “So the next time that you say the pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, don't just repeat the words but know that when we say, ‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ — we mean it.”
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee said Law Day is a time to appreciate liberties, to reaffirm loyalty to the country and a rededication to the issues of equality and justice. It is a time to celebrate the rule of law versus the rule of man.
“We celebrate the rule of law because we don’t want the rule of men,” he said. “Our ancestors escaped that. We cherish the various rights granted us in the Bill of Rights. Those rights are the bedrock of our constitutional system. The Bill of Rights remains unique throughout the world.”
Killian was invited to speak on the topic of “Federal Laws Under the United States Constitution” by the Bradley County Bar Association.
He said the American system of justice is not one of words found in books, but one that is applied everyday by every judge in every jurisdiction.
“We are constantly striving to achieve justice. We struggle sometimes to determine what the nature of justice is. In certain situations, it’s kind of difficult for us. We want to do the right thing. It’s just hard to determine what would be the right thing to do in that situation. Were we not so concerned about achieving justice, it would be a lot less worrisome and a lot less trouble.”
But, he continued, because concept of justice is the ultimate prize in the American system, justice is always sought. While justice is sometimes elusive and hard to determine, it does not lessen the struggle to reach the goal.
He pointed out that children are familiar with the concept of fairness and justice. They know when something is not fair, whether it is dividing the candy bar or selecting teams to play a sport.
“I have heard children and adults say ‘It's just not fair.’ Whether its making fun of a different kid or watching a bully ruining some kids day, or seeing someone treated unequally because of their race, ethnic origin or sexual orientation or identity, we know what is right. We can spot an injustice immediately,” he said.
The essential elements of justice are equal application of the laws, fairness, consistency, doing what is right, respect for the law, and how these principles are implemented.
“It is inherent in the concept of justice that the means to obtain justice are just as important as the end of accomplishing justice. An improper means, cannot justify the end, in the struggle for justice. Why is this important?” he asked. “(It is because) the integrity of the system relies upon the equal and consistent processes and principles to achieve justice.
“We should not be like the late comedian Will Rogers said about the weather, ‘people talk a lot about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’ Or put another way, since we lawyers are the brunt of jokes like, ‘talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer.’ We lawyers are relied upon to ensure that our clients receive Justice. We are the instruments and tools of the system required to achieve Justice. We should be proud of our role in this system,” he said.
Killian recalled how causes divided the country and plunged it into a war with itself. The Civil War resulted in the death of the nation’s own citizens, as well as the destruction of property.
“Yet our system persevered because the Constitution is sturdy, yet flexible enough to change with our society and its needs,” he said. “We often hear about the area of Civil Rights — aren’t we talking about equal rights?” he asked. “We cannot choose when we apply the provisions of our Constitution nor to whom they are applied. At the Department of Justice, we respond to the facts and law, not the identity of the people charged.
“We are, and should be, judged by our consistency, equal application of the laws, equal treatment of individuals, and upholding of the regulations, statutes and constitutional principles of our democracy.
“It is not a perfect system. However, even though we grapple with the concept of justice in certain situations, we must not fail to continue to seek justice.”