By Jeff Jeffrey
In separate speeches Friday night, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and General Electric Co. General Counsel Brackett Denniston III said that recent attacks on the Justice Department lawyers who represented Guantanamo Bay detainees while in the private sector were “unsettling.”
Ginsburg and Denniston’s remarks came at an awards ceremony hosted by the Pro Bono Institute at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Denniston was honored with this year’s Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award.
In her introduction of Denniston, Ginsburg mentioned the recent flap created after Liz Cheney’s organization Keeping America Safe ran an ad that questioned the loyalties of the so-called "Al-Qaeda 7." Ginsburg said that those attacks reminded her of a similar situation in 2007, when Cully Stimson, who was then the Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs, singled out law firms that represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and some of their clients. GE was among the clients singled out by Stimson.
“I remember speaking with Brackett about that situation, and he said, ‘Pro bono service and the rule of law are great traditions at GE, and we have no intention of changing our relationships with firms based on pro bono efforts in which they are engaged,’” Ginsburg said. “The truth is that justice is served when there is quality representation by lawyers for everyone.”
Ginsburg also took a moment in her remarks to address recent health issues that she has faced.
“After surgery for pancreatic cancer earlier last year, I was just happy to be here. This year, I’m happy to report that I am alive and well,” Ginsburg said.
In accepting the award, Denniston said that dedicating pro bono hours to representing unpopular defendants is one of “the finest aspects of the legal profession.”
“During these tough times, lawyers must remain optimists because we are the guardians of the rule of law. By serving as the guardians of justice for even the most unpopular, lawyers such as those defending Guantanamo Bay detainees, make our world and the legal profession better,” Denniston said.
Denniston also said that lawyers and major corporations face a “great deal of animosity.” That animosity, Denniston said, “undermines the rule of law.”
The remarks made by Ginsburg and Denniston regarding the Justice Department lawyers who are under fire echoed similar statements made by Attorney General Eric Holder in an earlier panel discussion hosted by the Pro Bono Institute as part of its annual conference. As The National Law Journal previously reported, Holder called the DOJ lawyers who have represented Guantanamo Bay detainees “patriots” “who accept our professional responsibility to protect the rule of law, the right to counsel, and access to our courts—even when this requires defending unpopular positions or clients.”