Judge Kennedy talks freedom

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By Carol A. Clark

Thirty-four Eastern European police officials looked on as State Appeals Court Judge Roderick Kennedy explained that freedom requires an active political structure existing within a framework of law.

The law-enforcement officials from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia graduated from a four-week senior management course in March at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Roswell.

ILEA spokesman Jack Swickard explained that New Mexico Tech operates ILEA for the U.S. Department of State.

“The program has been such a great avenue for building bridges with police forces around the world,” Swickard said this morning. “We’ve had 83 countries represented among the 2,644 senior police officers attending our classes, which have been taught in 26 languages.”

Kennedy was guest speaker for the police official’s graduation ceremony held at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art in Roswell.

 “I was raised in a family that held lawyers in high esteem,” he said. “I think my parents saw the profession first as a way for their argumentative son to make a comfortable living, but also one in which a lawyer, working for a greater public order, could help realize and protect great freedoms.”

As Kennedy grew up and studied the law, he told the officials he came to realize that all freedoms, including the freedom to pursue economic benefit, rest on a country having an active and involved political culture that exists within a framework of law.

“The formation of countries generates huge challenges when a large power is removed and small powers must be brought together to build a new country – sometimes of many ethnic and national components,” Kennedy said. “This process requires a strong legal framework, and a commitment to use it for the good of all citizens, for it is in cherishing a diversity of points of view that the greatest chance for great change exists.”

The fathers of this country, he said, declared America’s independence, saying that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, (and) that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

“We Americans frequently say that we are a nation of laws,” Kennedy said. “When we say that, we usually mean that we have banded together in a way that is regulated by common understandings of behavior.”

One of these understandings, he said, is that a government exists subject to limits because of the agreement of its citizens, who also live under certain common rules, adding that English law provided a convenient and legitimate structure for much of the process of forming the U.S. government.

The people agree that the government legitimately has powers, and allow the government to protect citizens, resolve disputes between them, and conduct business in ways that benefit all citizens, Kennedy said. In all other matters, citizens and states keep the right to manage their own affairs.

“This is the central idea underlying what we call our freedoms,” he said. “Those freedoms – any freedoms – require political institutions to protect them. Those institutions - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary must each exist in balance with the ability to check the power of the others lest any begin to work in ways that harm the common good.

Other countries whose independence and self-determination are new, he said, are not always so lucky as to have a tradition requiring the control of government under a rule of law.

Kennedy explained to the officials that institutions of government control – the courts and the bureaucracy particularly – are often left over from a regime that did not use them to serve and protect citizens, but to centralize power in the hands of a few.

“Those people who know how to use government offices and power often remain as an elite, or an oligarchy that seeks to form a new system to support itself,” he said. “Overcoming resistance to these trends is perhaps the first and most noble fight of a new country – to open government to the view of the people, and to make it openly serve the common good of all citizens.”

Citizens must come to believe it is their dreams and their power running the government, not the government serving itself, he said, adding that the rule of law, then, must control the highest office of government as much as it does the single citizen on the street.

Those in government must prove that they work for the people and not themselves and fear the consequence of doing otherwise, Kennedy said. Citizens emerging from government imposed from above have no reason to trust such proof, he said, until they see the product of government helping them to live, to work, and to participate in civic life.

“Our world is becoming increasingly interdependent,” Kennedy told the graduates. “You are here in Roswell because you are leaders in protecting your countries from some of the most dangerous influences – international crime, and terrorism. At the same time, you are also leaders in another fight – the fight to build and preserve working government institutions that protect individual rights.

He told the police officials that their work increases the perception by citizens of these institutions’ legitimacy both inside their countries, and in the eyes of the world. “Governments cannot only endure, but they must also be worthy of endurance,” Kennedy said.

The judge explained that democracy itself is a hard thing to achieve, but democratic structures are something that should promote listening to citizens’ voices, engaging their participation, tolerating their protests, protecting their freedoms and responding to their needs.