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Chief justice implores lawyers to help ease partisan squabbling

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 9:03 p.m.

BOSTON — Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at the American Bar Association's annual meeting on Monday, said lawyers should have important involvement in mitigating the “sharp partisan divides” that have shaken public faith in government.

“Lawyers fulfill their professional calling to its fullest extent when they rise above particular partisan debates and participate as problem solvers,” he said in a rare public speaking event before the ABA that focused on the historical significance of the Magna Carta, an English charter that turns 800 next year.

Roberts, who was appointed chief justice by then-President George W. Bush in 2005, said lawyers can help bridge the chronic partisan bickering that has gridlocked Washington in recent years “simply by helping the public understand the nature of the role that courts play in civil life, a role distinct from that of the political branches.”

On the Magna Carta, Roberts said its “core principles of justice” remain relevant today and are worth defending.

“No person, no matter how high, is above the law,” he told the lawyers in attendance. “I encourage you all, as officers of the courts, to set your sights on the far horizon, to ensure that our legal profession continues to advance that ideal.”

Roberts said the Magna Carta, which is Latin for “Great Charter,” was meant to resolve “squabbling” between the king and land-owning barons in feudal England but touched on “fundamental freedoms” such as due process rights, separation of powers, and rule of law that have reverberated through the centuries. It warned of the dangers of “concentrated authority,” he said.

The document “fostered government unity in times of crisis” in England, he said, as kings reissued and reaffirmed the decree to galvanize support from barons. It enshrined the idea of representative government by giving a council of barons a direct line to the king to discuss taxation and other governance issues.

Roberts said the document's significance extends into American history, as revolutionaries in Boston and other colonial cities frequently invoked it as they pushed for independence from the English crown.

One of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta is on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until Sept. 1 and heads to the Library of Congress in Washington in November.

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