“Equal justice under law.”
This simple yet profound phrase, prominent in the lobby of the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis, took on an even deeper meaning Oct. 24 at the opening ceremony of the exhibit “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich.”
The display, which chronicles the systemic and deliberate erasure of the legal and constitutional constructs of the Weimar Republic as a prelude to Nazi atrocities, will tour through Nov. 21 at multiple Minneapolis venues as well as in St. Paul and Duluth.
“It’s no stretch to say that the disintegration of the rule of law is the prelude to genocide at any time, in any place, in any land, in any moment,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, told attendees. “The rule of law is what binds us together as civilization.”
Remembering and respecting this is essential, said Chief U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis. “The rule of law is a fragile item and document and idea in the world,” Davis said in an interview before his prepared remarks.
“It happened so quickly in Germany. People just didn’t believe it could happen. And that’s the thing we have to be so vigilant about. It’s almost impossible to turn the tide. This [exhibit] is a good experience for all of us, and hopefully we will be able to strengthen our roots here in this country, in this state, and in this district for the rule of law.”
Those roots already run deep in Minnesota, as evidenced by the legal community’s embrace of the event. And it was on display in the personal stories of three presenters whose grandparents were persecuted by the Nazis.
Two University of Minnesota academic leaders — Prof. Oren Gross, the director of the Institute for International Legal and Security Studies, and Associate Prof. Alejandro Baer, the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, as well as Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David R. Stras — spoke poignantly about their direct connection to what happens when the rule of law unravels.
This excellent exhibit is a great way to honor their grandparents — and all who were persecuted.
And it’s also a great way to honor the ethos designed to stop such atrocities: Equal justice under law.