(An excerpt from Georgia Supreme Court Associate Justice David Nahmias’ address to the fourth annual Georgia Legislative Policy Forum. Watch his address on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel.)
By Justice DAVID NAHMIAS
I think we all feel blessed to be Americans. I feel particularly blessed because it could easily have been different for me. My father comes from Egypt and my mother comes from Germany. They came to this country after World War II. They arrived here with almost nothing. They met in medical school. They moved to Atlanta in 1964 when I was born. They had very successful medical careers, helped a lot of people and raised several successful children and gave a lot back to their community.
Their lives, and my life to a large extent, really illustrate the tremendous opportunities that this country and the state of Georgia over the last 50 years have offered to people who work hard, who get a good education and play by the rules. When you stop to think about it a lot of those opportunities rest fundamentally on the rule of law.
We understand that to have a fair chance to succeed nobody can be considered beneath the law and we also understand in our hearts that to have true justice nobody can be considered above the law either.
I spent much of my career defending victims and trying to protect the rights of citizens by prosecuting people who thought that they were too powerful, too wealthy or just too dangerous for the law to apply to them, particularly corrupt public officials like former mayor Bill Campbell and terrorists like Eric Rudolph and a lot of folks after the 9/11 attacks. There are a lot of people who believe the law does not apply to them until, in this country at least, they get prosecuted in a court, convicted by a jury of their peers and hear a jail door clang shut behind them.
We generally in this country just take the rule of law as a given. It’s just part of the background of your life if you’re an American. Of course our contracts and our property rights will be enforced in predictable ways. Of course we can sue and recover for injuries if we get hurt by someone. And if someone commits a crime against us, they’ll get prosecuted. And of course if official corruption comes to light it won’t be tolerated and something will be done about it.
The rule of law is an immensely valuable thing. The economic value and the value to our own personal security and our family security — it’s almost impossible to put a value on that. Just think what it’s like and talk to people who try to do business in the developing countries where people think there’s tremendous economic growth.
Try to do business in China; where the government might tell you the next day that everything you invested in is now its property; in Russia where you might be told that, hey, you have a new 50 percent partner in your venture; (or) in India or Brazil where if you want to enforce a contract or property right you go into a court system that is overwhelmed and doesn’t have predictable or independent results. The rule of law has not been the norm for most countries in the world, and it still is not the norm today for billions of people but it is for Americans and it is for Georgians.
Fundamental to the rule of law is the independence of the judiciary and the competence of a good group of lawyers. Countries that don’t have enough lawyers – and we may have too many – but countries that don’t have enough lawyers really have a problem establishing and maintaining the rule of law. I feel very fortunate to have spent much of my career as a lawyer and now as a judge working to protect and enhance what really is fundamental to this country, and that is, equal justice for all. You all said it at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, equal justice for all. That’s really the guiding light of what I try to do every day.
I wanted to publicly say how much I appreciate Georgia Public Policy Foundation. For those of you that will be entering the Legislature or are relatively new you may not quite yet appreciate how much we rely on Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s research and work. As you know we’re a citizen’s legislature. We have very little staff. They have been an invaluable, invaluable resource to us. To put this [Forum] on and the regular programs that they do throughout the year make us better at what we do. (At the 2012 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum.)