Preet Bharara says democracy is imperiled when norms are undermined

Preet Bharara in a conversation with Fordham University School of Law Dean Matthew Diller at the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Judicial Section Award Ceremony Jan. 19.

Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has said Democracy in America is not going to get very far unless all people respect the system.

During a conversation with Fordham University School of Law Dean Matthew Diller at the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Judicial Section Award Ceremony January 19, Bharara said that the values of America are being tested.

“What is at risk?” he asked. “Democracy works on the honor system; there are norms that we adhere to. Unless all people respect the system, it’s not going to get very far. Once boundaries are pushed and norms are undermined, democracy is imperiled,” he said.

Bharara was dismissed by Donald Trump three months after being sworn in as president in 2017. Earlier, in his podcast from WNYC Studios and CAFE, “Stay Tuned with Preet”, in September 2017, the former U.S. Attorney recalled how Trump initially requested him to stay on as U.S. attorney after the presidential election, and said he felt somewhat uncomfortable as Trump as the president-elect and later as president called him directly on the phone.

He mentioned that he had been asked many times by people as to why he was fired, but he said he does not know because he is prepared to believe lots of things are possible. ”It could be because someone got angry that I didn’t return the phone call (of the president). It could be that people thought that all of these U.S. attorneys were part of this nonsensical notion of the deep state. It could be a combination of reasons,” he said.

“It could have been an accident and they decided to stick with it. It could be that they didn’t want independent people around,” he said. I’m not here to speculate. I just laid out the facts.,” he said that time.

But Bharara did not touch any of such issues at the NYSBA meeting where the topic of the talk was “Threats to the Rule of Law and What We Can Do to Counter Them.” The Bharara-Diller conversation provided a venue to address “our shared challenges” – the men sat across from each other in wing chairs, with Dean Diller posing the difficult questions of the day and Bharara drawing on his vast experience as a lawyer and a prosecutor, according to a NYSBA press release. During their conversation, Bharara and Diller noted a hopeful surge of public interest in law and civics.

Bharara observed that never before has there been such an interest in what lawyers have to say. “There’s more interest now in how our institutions work, how democracy works, how courts work,” he said, adding that “committed citizens want to understand how things work.”

Diller agreed, noting that “law students are realizing they can make a difference through the law.”

Known for his efforts to fight public corruption and insider trading during his time as U.S. Attorney, Bharara, is a distinguished scholar in residence at New York University School of Law. He also co-chairs the nonpartisan National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy, at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, with former New Jersey Governor and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. The task force released a report in October 2018 titled “Proposals for Reform.”

Over its 95-year history, NYSBA’s Judicial Section has sought to provide a forum for constructive dialogue, featuring speakers who explore issues of substantive law procedure and court administration. This is in harmony with the section’s mission to support an independent judiciary and to advance fairness, efficiency, and justice for all.

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