Drawing on my 55 years as a civil liberties lawyer (I appeared in my first Supreme Court case in 1967), I will attempt to assess the strength of our democratic institutions to withstand the intense pressures placed on them by politicians who seek to gain and retain political power by unleashing divisive rhetoric exploiting fear, envy, bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia. I conclude in my new book, “When at Times the Mob is Swayed,” that there is no institutional deus ex machina in the sky that can save American democracy if the people fail to defend it at the polls. While, I argue, our institutions can resist the erosion of democratic ideals, only the people can preserve them..
This is my 48th year on the faculty of NYU Law School, where I am the Norman Dorsen Professor in Civil Liberties. I served as National Legal Director of the ACLU during the Reagan Presidency and am the founding Legal Director of the Brennan Center for Justice (emeritus). As a young ACLU lawyer, I challenged the constitutionality of the undeclared war in Vietnam. I have appeared in more than 200 cases in the United States Supreme Court, including the Pentagon Papers, the flag burning cases, and, most recently, the unsuccessful attack on partisan gerrymandering. Beginning in 1996, I served as principal counsel in a series of cases against Swiss banks and German corporations seeking restitution for victims of the Holocaust resulting in the distribution of almost $8 billion to victims. In 2001, I was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Sunday Platform is our most important and long-standing community event. These gatherings educate, stimulate personal growth, inspire reflection and action, and strengthen our community. Sunday meetings usually begin with music, followed by greetings and a talk given by a Society Leader, member, or guest. Platforms cover a variety of topics that reflect current events, pressing social issues, and Ethical Culture philosophy. A collection basket is passed and money is shared between the Society and a charity selected for that day. While contributions are always appreciated, Sunday meetings are free and open to the public. Each Sunday meeting is followed by a luncheon and social hour.
To view previous Sunday Platform addresses and interviews, visit the Ethical NYC YouTube channel.