The Need to Uphold the Rule of Law in a Troubled World

Calling on the United States to take a stronger stand to uphold the rule of law around the world, retired Navy Admiral William McRaven spoke to more than 200 Texas legal and business leaders on April 17 in Houston at the annual Higginbotham Lecture, an event presented by The Center for American and International Law (CAIL).

McRaven, an authority on U.S. foreign policy and defense and former Commander of U.S. Special Forces, spoke about the importance of the U.S. maintaining its traditional leadership role in enforcing the rule of law at home and abroad. He asked, “Are we a nation of laws or a nation of men?”

McRaven noted the global war on terrorism as an example of the challenges to the rule of law facing the U.S. and the rest of the world today.  “The global war on terrorism is a long way from being over. Al Qaeda, headquartered in the mountains of Pakistan, still presents a threat today, plotting and planning to attack the U.S. or our allies. Additionally, many of the Al Qaeda affiliates remain strong.”

Acknowledging that many thoughtful people would say the U.S. cannot be the policeman of the world, and that we can’t address every evil, McRaven said, “every time we let a heinous terrorist act go unaddressed and unpunished, then the law gets a little less powerful, the terrorists a little bolder, and the threat to the U.S. gets greater.”

In his speech, titled “The Rule of Law in a Troubled World,” McRaven also called out actions by Russia, China and other countries that disrespect international rules and norms, and said the U.S, and our allies should hold them accountable. “If we reward bad behavior by ignoring the act, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens again.”

Pointing to the consequences of not enforcing the rule of law, McRaven said, “The world today is a very small place, and the strength of our economy, the health of our population and the security of our borders requires engagement with our allies, partners and friends, and sometimes even our enemies.

Photo caption: The audience listens to Admiral McRaven

Photo caption: Admiral McRaven delivering his lecture

Prior to McRaven’s speech, Randall Ebner, a CAIL Board of Trustee member and Vice President and General Counsel of Exxon Mobil Corporation, provided an invocation. He spoke about the important responsibility of legal professionals to uphold the rule of law and urged a recommitment to “keeping the ethics and integrity for our profession at the forefront of what we do—on every case, and every project and transaction, every day.”

Ebner added, “In times of trouble or uncertainty, there will always be some who seek to act outside the law, or challenge what is right. But as legal professionals, we have a responsibility to our clients and to each other to always act with integrity – to respect and comply with the ethics of our profession and protect the communities and countries where we do business.

Photo caption: Randall Ebner gives the invocation

 Upholding the rule of law around the world was the fundamental purpose for CAIL’s creation in 1947.  Its founder, Dean Robert Storey of the Southern Methodist University School of Law, had just returned home from serving as a counsel to Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in the prosecution of high-ranking Nazi officials in the Nuremberg war crimes trials.  Through that experience, he saw the need to promote and improve the understanding of the rule of law around the world, and CAIL was born.

Today, CAIL provides continuing education to lawyers and law enforcement leaders throughout the U.S. and around the world. In 2018, more than 5,800 people from 42 states and 53 countries attended CAIL programs, conferences and courses.

The Higginbotham Lecture Series was created in 2013 as a tribute to Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham, who served for 12 years as the Chair of CAIL’s Board of Trustees. At the 2019 Higginbotham Lecture, CAIL’s Award of Achievement in the Pursuit of Justice for All was presented to prominent trial attorney David J. Beck for his leadership and commitment to the rule of law and equality of justice.

Photo caption: Hon. Lee H. Rosenthal presented David J. Beck with the CAIL Award for Achievement