PUBLISHED:January 07, 2021

Message from Dean Abrams on events in Washington


In a message to Duke Law students, faculty, and staff, Dean Kerry Abrams addressed the rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Dear Duke Law Community:

Yesterday, we witnessed a violent attack by an armed mob on one of our most important democratic institutions by those seeking to overturn by force the results of a free and fair presidential election. This attack did not occur in a vacuum; rather, it was the culmination of a series of attacks on our democracy, including the repeated sowing of misinformation intended to mislead the public about the fairness of an election, even after our nation’s courts repudiated – universally and unequivocally – dozens of legal challenges contesting the election. The shocking images of the Capitol complex overrun by rioters were only made more disturbing by the stark contrast with the treatment of peaceful protests for racial justice in recent months.  

As lawyers and future lawyers, we must take the time to reflect on how members of our own profession contributed, positively and negatively, to these events. Over the past few years, we have seen some lawyers act with an extraordinary lack of care and a disregard for our institutions, our form of government, and even the truth. Others, including many of the judges who heard the legal claims contesting the election, members of Congress of both parties, election officials, and countless others working behind the scenes, have taken action to uphold the rule of law and have taken seriously their obligations to engage in the ethical practice of law. We must never forget that our most profound duties as lawyers include our responsibilities to promote civil – not violent – discourse, seek justice for all, and, most fundamentally, uphold the rule of law.

It is my fervent hope that over the next few weeks we are able to achieve the peaceful transition of power that our country needs and begin to repair the damage that has been done to our democratic institutions. Congress’s action in reconvening quickly and completing the electoral count last night was an important first step, but we have a long way to go. Our nation has reached a crucial moment. If we are apathetic, these assaults on our institutions and form of government could become the norm, and we may lose our most cherished freedoms. Alternatively, we can choose to learn from this experience and recommit ourselves as a nation to the rule of law in which all members are treated equally. If the latter is to happen, members of the legal community – especially our students, who will be our future leaders – will need to play a crucial role in this rebuilding of our democracy. Now is the time for us to remember why we chose to become members of this profession and pledge ourselves to use our skills to promote the search for truth and to uphold our democratic ideals and institutions.

With warmest regards,

Dean Abrams