Keeping politics out of the law: The view from the USA.

The former Chief lawyer at Microsoft, William Newkom, who is the new President at the American Bar Association (ABA) believes that politicians should not interfere in the administration of justice.

{mosimage cw=100}

En agosto de 2007 se aprobó una resolución en relación a la tortura en EE.UU. donde se permitía a agentes de la CIA utilizar métodos de tortura. William H. Neukom, socio en la oficina de Seattle de K&L Gates y presidente de la American Bar Association, explica como la ABA condenó al gobierno estadounidense e hizo una llamada al Congreso de Estados Unidos para prohibir la tortura, recientemente, este último ha declarado su acuerdo e intención de retraerse.

The rule of law, and of justice, only have meaning when we stand up and protect them.

In August 2007, the US House of Delegates approved Resolution 10B, concerning the issue of torture. In doing so, the ABA called on Congress to supersede President George W Bush’s executive order that exempts the CIA from limits on treatment of detainees.

Three years ago, in San Francisco, the ABA called for an end to torture by agents of the American government. Since then, Congress has declared its clear intent that torture be banned.

Mistreating or abusing detainees runs counter to what America stands for, and it damages our credibility with the world. Leaders of our armed services say it is does not produce reliable information, and actually exposes our own troops to increased risk of being tortured.

The time for delays and exceptions has come to an end. The Geneva Accords, which protect our own soldiers and sailors from mistreatment by enemies, are recognised as law by our government.

It is time for Congress to make clear, beyond any doubt, that America will not engage in any form of torture.

Another important issue involves the ‘state secrets’ privilege. Should our government be able to terminate a civil case at the outset simply by declaring that it would compromise state secrets, without any explanation or inquiry?

In a number of lawsuits, including those involving electronic surveillance, the government has said it should have that power.

Two competing needs must be balanced. When Americans believe their rights have been violated, they deserve their day in court, but we must indeed protect our national security.

ABA Resolution 116A is a measured response. It says that judges should fully examine the legitimacy of state secrets claims

in a secure setting, before deciding whether a lawsuit against the government truly is a threat to the nation’s safety. When it isn’t a threat, a case should be allowed to proceed.


ABA Resolution 10C, which the House of Delegates considered over the summer, concerns the US Attorney’s Office.

The resolution affirmed the ABA’s longtime core belief that prosecutors should be insulated in their daily duties from partisan politics.

And, prosecutors must feel free to serve just one master – the law – without fear of reprisals from political appointees.

To that end, it is my intent to look at ways for the ABA to study this issue and make specific recommendations during the coming year on how to achieve this goal.

It’s fair to say that this resolution was inspired by concerns over the Justice Department’s dismissal of nine career prosecutors in 2006.

But our concerns in this area are not new; the ABA has had policy regarding federal prosecutors and partisan influence since the 1970s.

Our goal is to offer solutions for this and future administrations that will give Americans the confidence they need and deserve in our justice system.

William H. Neukom, a partner in the Seattle office of K&L Gates. His term as President of the American Bar Association began in August 2007. Previously he was Microsoft Corp.’s chief lawyer for nearly a quarter of a century. As executive vice president of Law and Corporate Affairs, he managed Microsoft’s legal, government affairs and philanthropic activities for 17 years. Prior to this he was the firm’s lead counsel while working as a partner at Preston, Gates & Ellis. Neukom rejoined Preston Gates in 2002.