Because I have been questioned about the legitimacy of what I do -- representing those despised by society -- I was disheartened to read Andrew Sullivan chastising the ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) for representing Anwar al-Awlaki. Others, including a law professor who is on the CCR board, have also criticized the legal challenge brought in support of Awlaki. The Obama Administration has authorized the killing of Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda and allegedly hiding in Yemen. A lawsuit brought by Awlaki’s father, who is represented by the ACLU and CCR, challenges “whether the government has the power to kill any American citizen it labels as a terrorist without review by the courts.” Shouldn't we be questioning the legality of our government's ability to kill American citizens, and shouldn't we celebrate instead of condemn a justice system that gives us a vehicle to argue the constitutionality of such practices? Even the federal judge hearing the case pressed the Justice Department "to explain why the government needs a court warrant to eavesdrop on an American overseas but not to kill one." This does not “cross the line” as Andrew Sullivan asserts. Indeed, as Glenn Greewald passionately argues: "How could it ever 'cross a line' for a civil liberties lawyer to represent an American citizen in an American court arguing that the Government is transgressing the limits of the U.S. Constitution? The only thing that crosses a line is to insinuate that there's something improper about that."
This controversy is reminiscent of the recent campaign by Liz Cheney and her group, Keep America Safe, which smeared lawyers in Obama's Justice Department as the "Al Qaeda 7," for previously having represented Guantanamo detainees. I am obviously not objective about this, but I believe that a lawyer's most important role is to represent people who are hated and feared, and to ensure that the government is following the law. Back in March, a group of former Bush Administration officials and other prominent lawyers published a letter condemning Liz Cheney's ad as shameful. They rightfully stressed that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre."