May 12, 2008

Law school honors Pakistan's chief justice

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University School of Law honored the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 10.

Pakistani Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry received the law school's 2008 Rule of Law Citation. The citation is a formal recognition by law school faculty "of the important tradition of the legal profession that requires lawyers to stand firm in support of liberty and justice in the face of oppression and, by their words and actions, to honor and support the Rule of Law even at great personal risk," Dean Peter C. Alexander said.

A total of 100 law students earned degrees in ceremonies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Shryock Auditorium.

The commencement hood and scroll, on an empty chair in the front row with law school faculty, symbolized the law school "stands with these lawyers who are suffering for the Rule of Law," Alexander said.

Chaudhry's selection is representative of all the attorneys and judges in Pakistan, Alexander said.

"The government limited their rights, removed many of them from judicial office, and restricted many of the lawyers' rights to practice law freely," Alexander said. In November 2007, Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended the country's constitution. His forces placed Chaudhry and other judges under house arrest for five months before his release. Chaudhry and other supreme court justices may return to the bench this week, according to various media reports.

The remembrance brings not only international attention to the plight of the attorneys and judges, but also serves as another educational opportunity for the newest law school graduates, Alexander said.

"It reminds them that even though this is a great day -- that graduation is an exciting time -- we have to take a moment to remember that there are lawyers who literally die around the world," he said. "This is a very serious profession and there are very serious responsibilities attendant with being an attorney."

It is important for people everywhere to be concerned with the plights of attorneys, judges and legal systems, even in another part of the world, Alexander said.

"It helps to raise the collective consciousness of citizens in this country to know that there are lawyers who are killed for being lawyers," he said. "And, hopefully, it helps people to appreciate that we are a very important profession -- and that lawyer jokes and negative comments about lawyers are misplaced. We are a self-regulating profession and we take very seriously our obligations to uphold the Rule of Law.

"I think it's also a reminder to the public that without lawyers we might have a lawless society," he said.

The Harvard Law School awarded Chaudhry its "Medal of Freedom," the Society of American Teachers awarded the Pakistani bar its "Rule of Law Award," and the National Law Journal selected Chaudhry as its 2007 Lawyer of the Year.