In our American system, justice is not an abstraction. Like all the virtues, justice is a moral habit; we become a just society by acting justly. The duty to “promote justice,” which we lay upon ourselves when we pledge to defend the Constitution, is a duty we exercise through the instrument of the law. [For] the “rule of law” distinguishes civilized societies from barbarism.
That simple phrase—“the rule of law”—should lift our hearts. To be sure, it has little of the evocative power of Lincoln’s call to rebuild a national community with “malice toward none” and “charity for all”; to celebrate the “rule of law” may stir our souls less than MacArthur’s moving call to “Duty, Honor, Country.” But if that phrase lacks the eloquence of Lincoln and MacArthur, it nonetheless calls us to a noble way of life.
Legislators—makers of laws in a democratic republic—are involved in a vital task. Ours is not just a job; public service in the Congress is not just a career. What we do here we ought to do as a matter of vocation: as a matter of giving flesh and blood to our convictions about justice—our moral duty to give everyone his due. I have been in public life long enough to know that not every moment in politics is filled with nobility. But I have also been in public life long enough to know that those who surrender to cynicism and deny any nobility to the making of the laws end up doing grave damage to the rule of law—and to justice. If we don’t believe that what we are doing here can rise above the brokering of raw interests—if we do not believe that politics and the making of the law can contribute to the ennobling of American democracy—then we have no moral claim to a seat in the Congress of the United States.