Lawyers often represent clients in criminal cases when the odds are long or a catastrophe likely. The facts might be harmful, the evidence overwhelming, or the law clearly on the side of the prosecution. Still, we do the best we can. But what if the system is rigged? What if the system has the trappings of a fair fight but is, in fact, skewed to one side and, by design, the lawyer cannot fully defend the client? What if the lawyer can only lend legitimacy to a process that at its core is biased, slanted in favor of the other side, or fundamentally unfair? Indeed, what if the system is rigged so as to prevent the lawyer from zealously representing the client, or if it compromises the lawyer’s undivided loyalty to the client? Should lawyers refuse to participate in such systems, or should they – should we – still do the best we can?
What are the professional responsibilities of lawyers who provide legal advice to the executive branch, particularly in times of crisis? Who, exactly, is their client? Do professional responsibility standards shed any light on the circumstances that faced executive branch lawyers in the months following 9/11? What can we learn from the experience of those lawyers about competing principles of professional responsibility?
In two cases decided on June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court emphatically upheld the rule of law and the right of those being detained as part of the war on terrorism to have access to the courts. In Rasul v. Bush, the Court held that those being detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are entitled to have a habeas corpus petition heard in federal court. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Justices declared, by an 8-to-1 margin, that an American citizen apprehended in a foreign country and held as an enemy combatant must be accorded due process, including a meaningful factual hearing on his status.