Executive Summary: Connected through adversity
Vol. 77, No. 1 / Jan. - Feb. 2021
Mischa Buford Epps
Mischa Buford Epps is executive director of The Missouri Bar.
After a year of pandemics — COVID-19, racial injustice, economic downturn, and natural disasters — many of us have been excited to leave 2020 behind.
We welcomed 2021 and the new possibilities it brings. As the 117th U.S. Congress opened, little could we have imagined the Jan. 6 assault on our nation’s Capitol and attack on the rule of law. The tumultuous events of the first week of the year reminded us of the fragility of our democratic republic and of life itself as five people lost their lives in connection with these events. Unfortunately, the fragility of life is ever before us as we have had friends, family members, colleagues, and clients numbered among the more than 375,000 deaths in our country to date due to the coronavirus. To learn and rebuild from all that has been lost, we must look beyond our own experiences and recognize our common humanity.
The pandemic has caused changes in our society, our personal and professional lives, and our organizations. Your bar continues to adapt to best support you and your practice safely until a vaccine becomes readily available and the health risks associated with large events diminish. In late November 2020, the Board of Governors voted to continue with virtual formats for all Missouri Bar events, multi-day conferences, and programs through August 2021. This enables us to continue to provide the quality, law-specific programing you expect and deserve in the safest ways possible for you and our staff. We will continue to monitor developments related to the pandemic and the vaccine distribution to determine best offerings – whether virtual, onsite, or some combination – for the Annual Meeting of The Missouri Bar, set for Sept. 22-24.
Although the pandemic has brought significant change, it has not changed our resolve to protect and support the rule of law. The importance of this commitment was aptly described by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her farewell letter retiring from public life. She advised:
“I’ve seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities. It is through this shared understanding of who we are that we can follow the approaches that have served us best over time – working collaboratively together in communities and in government to solve problems, putting country and the common good above party and self-interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable.”2
We know it takes work and engagement to maintain our democratic institutions. The Missouri Bar strives every day to do our part by promoting civic education and engagement through outreach efforts and programs such as the Show-Me the Constitution mock-Congressional hearing competition. Held online in mid-December, the 2020 program presented high school students with questions pertaining to Constitutional issues surrounding current events. We are thankful for the lawyers and judges who participated as judges in the competition. The importance of your involvement is underscored by one participating student’s comment that “… connecting with experienced individuals virtually and discussing the inner working of our courts and legislation reminded me that we will always find ways to solve problems and adapt to new circumstances.”
The Show-Me the Constitution competition is just one example of ways you can be involved in helping to equip a knowledgeable and engaged citizenry to uphold our democratic principles and preserve our democracy. Learn more about this competition and other civics education opportunities at MissouriLawyersHelp.org.
The preamble to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 4 admonishes that we, as lawyers, play a vital role in the preservation of society. While divisions in our country garner greater attention, we are challenged to recognize our common humanity. The virulent adversaries of our time – coronavirus, poverty, violence, prejudice, and fear – remind us of our interconnected reality. We are challenged to move beyond the coarseness in our dealings with one another and to recognize that the person on the other side of the aisle or debate is not my enemy, rather, he or she is my fellow American. Please join in meeting this challenge.
1 Mischa Buford Epps is executive director of The Missouri Bar
2 Letter from Sandra Day O’Connor (Oct. 23, 2018), https://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/press/Public_Letter_from_Sandra_Day_OConnor_102318.pdf