As lawyers in Pakistan take to the streets to protest President Musharraf’s declaration of martial law a state of emergency, Steanso wonders how American lawyers would react to the same set of circumstances:

It kind of makes me wonder what would happen in this country if the president were to suddenly implement martial law and suspend all of our civil rights. I guess it would be a fair bet that certain groups would take to the streets in protest, but I have a hard time believing that American lawyers would be amongst the people leading the charge…

[I]f the American legal system were to come under attack, American lawyers would mostly file lawsuits and write angry letters. If that wasn’t effective, they’d mostly throw up their hands and start retraining themselves for some other line of white collar work.

Maybe PR, marketing, or sales. I’m not sure American lawyers would be willing to march or take a baton to the head in defense of our legal system.

First, I should thank Jason for being kind enough to exempt me from this indictment, even if it was partly (wholly?) tongue-in-cheek.

His hypothetical is somewhat hard to imagine, despite our President’s suspension of some of our most important civil rights. As bad as the prior few years have been for civil liberties, I still think it’s difficult for us to really imagine what it must be like to live in an overt dictatorship.

Ralph Nader recently addressed this issue in a piece published on CounterPunch: “Where Are the Lawyers of America?

I have been asking lawyers why they do not become directly active in challenging what they themselves believe is a reckless above-the-law Presidency and its enormous concentration of unlawful power…

It is up to the lawyers to rally for the Republic. This is deep patriotism, for without upholding our constitution, and the laws of the land, what will become of our country?

If Nader is correct that lawyers haven’t done enough to challenge the administration’s abuse of power so far, could Steans be right that lawyers would be too apathetic to fight when martial law comes to America?

I think the real answer is that lawyers are like everyone else. Some are lazy, some hard working; some are unethical, some very principled. The range of adjectives that can be used to describe people in general can just as easily modify ‘American lawyers’.

Some lawyers would protest vigorously, while others would do little to nothing.

N.B. The League of Melbotis adds a comment to Jason’s post challenging me, “I would like to see Jamie take on "The Man" in a more direct fashion. Fight the power, Jamie.”

League! Right now, being a criminal defense lawyer is the best way I know how to fight the man. Got any better suggestions?