In my last semester in law school, we had a program where you could serve as a legal fellow in a Congressional office instead of taking classes. I was all too happy to work a 40 hour week (instead of 12 hours of classes) and get picked for a legal fellowship in the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman – my home state senator.
To this day, it remains one of the greatest privileges of my life.
With my yellow badge at that time, before 9/11, I had some freedom to naviage the complex. I could walk the tunnels down below between the Capitol and the Senate office buildings, pop my head into a hearing, and yes, even eat the Senate cafeteria.
But late in my semester, after I had been working on a bill for several months, the office engineered a unique event for me.
As I recall it, legal fellows like myself were not allowed on the floor of the Senate with one exception — if a Senator accompanied us, we could sit in one of the couches on the sides. No talking, no disruption. And when the Senator left, we could stay — but only so long as you didn’t leave and try to come back.
There would be no bathroom breaks.
And so, one day, they arranged to have me get to go on the Senate floor when I bill I had been working on was going to be discussed. It was a rather lazy afternoon; only a few Senators would wander in from time to time. I remember Senator Bill Bradley (and former basketball star) was there – he was tall. Senator Paul Simon was there too – with his bow tie.
I knew it was probably going to be a once in a lifetime experience — to be on the floor of the most consequential legislature in the world with the United States Senators making those laws.
I was in heaven.
I think about that day from time to time. A few years back, I took my kids on a tour of the Capitol and we viewed the Senate chamber from above. I pointed to the corner where I sat and noted how the desks there had been there for generations.
And I thought about that day on Wednesday, when Congress was attacked by a mob, incited by our very own President.
The insurrection had no reverence for the place. No understanding of its importance or its fragility. And no care for its history.
Our nation is a nation of laws, laws passed by Congress. The Rule of Law has governed who we are. It defines our success (and, when it isn’t followed, defines our failures too.)
The Rule of Law allows for disputes of employment discrimination claims to be handled in courts, not “trial by combat” as the President’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani suggested.
It allows for employers to understand what rules they need to follow if they want to operate — and the rules that employees can expect will be followed when they are working.
And it allows for prosecution of those who have broken the law.
Businesses understand how damaging Wednesday was; as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted: “Small businesses, local communities, and our nation pay a steep price when demonstrations turn violent and destructive, so it is critical that these gatherings be peaceful.”
There must be consequences to those who have incited riots, those who have lied to the American people, and those who refuse to follow the Rule of Law.
It’s up to all of us — employers, employees, businesses and citizens — to say enough and demand that the Rule of Law be followed. Lies and conspiracy theories have no place in our workplaces or in civilized society.
But most of all, I hope we can bring back that feeling of reverence that many of us have had when we have visited the halls of Congress.
As President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared on Law Day in 1958: “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”