The Rule of Law

Zane Memeger, Esq., who served as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania during the Obama Administration, offered the following remarks at a reception on June 12 at which he received the Bob Edgar Public Service Achievement Award from Common Cause Pennsylvania.

“From my vantage nothing is more important that the faith of the citizens in their government.

Government allows us to achieve great things on behalf of all of us when it is functioning correctly. But when individuals are permitted to corrupt our system of government, it can cause people to not care about their fellow man and forget about the 52 words that bind us together as a nation.

While we appear to have lost our way of late, those 52 words have allowed us as a country to deal with some very difficult issues in the past:  racial equality, gender and sexual equality, healthcare, Social Security, immigration, and the list goes on.  I’m sure in time, we will get back on track but it will take work by all of us to make that happen.

Our ability to live up to those 52 words is further undermined when politicians, judges, law enforcement officials, and government employees ignore the common good and act in their own self-interest out of greed and self-entitlement at the expense of others.

As U.S. Attorney I had the chance to use the legal tools available to me to prosecute those who sought to illegally profit from their government service at the expense of our democracy and we who placed them in a position of power.

Through the great work of prosecutors, investigators, and the support staff that did yeoman’s work behind the scenes we were able to demonstrate to the community that no one is above the law: [Congressman Fattah, Mayor Pawlowski, Municipal Court Judges Joseph Waters and Joseph O’Neil, Traffic Court Judges, Law Enforcement Officers, and countless government employees].

Unfortunately, we have begun to quickly enter a dangerous age where federal prosecutors at DOJ are routinely being viewed as politically motivated.

I have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations during my 18 years with DOJ, and while priorities might change from administration to administration, not once was I asked to bring charges or refrain from bringing charges based on politics or party affiliation.

My job from day one was to “Follow the Evidence” and to “Do the Right Thing” regardless of politics.   Attorney General Holder reemphasized that point at my final interview for the U.S. Attorney position.

I am honestly concerned about the way DOJ is being treated in the current environment, and I can tell you that there are thousands of hard working men and women at DOJ – of all political persuasions – who are simply trying to “Follow the Evidence” and “Do the Right Thing” day in and day out.

If we allow political theater, tweets, social media, and the nightly news cycle to eventually drive and dictate how the DOJ operates, I truly believe that the rule of law will be lost to our detriment.

Maintaining that rule of law takes political courage and the ability to ignore the constant din of those seeking a predetermined outcome — and my fear is that all of the money that has been allowed to infiltrate and influence our democratic system of government has made finding that political courage on whatever side of the aisle you sit all the more difficult.

From personal experience, corruption cases take time to investigate so that the correct (and I don’t mean “politically”) charging decisions are made; and federal prosecutors generally get it right – even if one may be ultimately disappointed in the final outcome.  Actual evidence and due process must be allowed to control in the end.

Lately, having soundbites for purposes of getting re-elected seems at times more important than letting our system of government work as intended – without interfering with and second-guessing the independence that DOJ enjoyed through many presidential administrations and past sessions of the House and Senate.

While I can’t predict what will happen in 2018, 2020, or beyond, I do know that if we as a Nation allow DOJ to succumb to political pressure – it is only a matter of time before our Constitution will become a meaningless piece of paper as the rule of law no longer matters.

That is a world none of us should wish to see.”

Zane Memeger is a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; he served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2016.