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The rule of law matters: A letter from some of Wyoming's most prominent lawyers and judges

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The following article was originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune on Jan. 17, 2021 in the immediate aftermath of the events of Jan. 6. Since that time, several swing states conducted post-election audits or inquires, and a select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives undertook a major investigation culminating in a series of public hearings that are now concluding. The signatories below — Wyoming lawyers, judges, and legal educators believe the state inquires and Congressional investigation over the last 18 months have confirmed, and indeed amplified, the views expressed in the original article — including the continuing courageous actions and leadership of Rep. Liz Cheney in support of our constitutional democracy.

As lawyers, retired judges, and legal educators of all political stripes, we share the shock felt by most Americans over the events of Jan. 6th in Washington D.C. In the days, months, and years ahead, the underlying causes will be debated and accountability will be assigned. We all have our own opinions on that subject, and they vary, but we will refrain from adding them here. Instead, at this dangerous moment, we think it is important to keep in mind that, while the foundations of our democracy have been shaken, they remain strong.

And for that, we are indebted to the courage of countless individuals, from both political parties, who when tested, stood up to do their constitutional duties.

Thousands of state election officials, placing themselves in harm’s way, worked tirelessly under the intense gaze of partisan poll watchers and internet video audiences, in a transparent effort designed to assure all of us that “all legal votes would be counted.” Votes were cast and counted, and in hotly-contested states, recounted (and in Georgia manually counted again) or subjected to various post-election challenges allowed under different state laws. After all of that, state election officials in contested states, mostly Republicans, publicly affirmed that no meaningful anomalies were found — conclusions that subjected some of them to violent criticism and threats. Rather than retreating, they stood their ground, in defense of their own state laws, and in adherence to their Constitutional duties.

Ultimately, the integrity of the election was challenged in every swing state in 64 different lawsuits. Judges and their support staffs, Republicans and Democrats alike, following their oaths, rose to the challenge by issuing dozens-upon-dozens of reasoned written decisions, addressing all claimed irregularities, including fraud, raised in multiple state and federal courts. No court found evidence of fraud or a showing of illegality that would have changed the results. Even the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed appeals and unanimously found no reason to interfere with any state’s voting procedure or result.

During all of these post-election efforts questioning the integrity of the election process, way back on November 20, 2019, Rep. Liz Cheney publicly stated:

“America is governed by the rule of law. The president and his lawyers have made claims of criminality and widespread fraud, which they allege could impact election results. If they have genuine evidence of this, they are obligated to present it immediately in court and to the American people. I understand that the president has filed more than 30 separate lawsuits. If he is unsatisfied with the results in those lawsuits, then the appropriate avenue is to appeal. If the president cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process.”

Rep. Cheney’s post-election challenge to the former president, his supporters, and his lawyers to produce evidence to support their claims was entirely correct. Her further challenge to him, and them, to support the sanctity of our electoral process if those legal challenges failed was both proper and courageous.

Yet, sadly, after all the lawsuits were dismissed and all the states had certified their elections and electoral votes, the former president and some of his most ardent supporters pressured Congress to reject the electoral votes of swing states which the president had lost—a pressure campaign which, if successful, would have disenfranchised tens-of-millions of voters and put the nation into a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

Rep. Cheney, putting aside considerations of party, promptly spoke up again, calling out those actions for what they were — “unconstitutional” and “dangerous.” The congresswoman went to the effort of preparing a lengthy memorandum reviewing all of the meritless litigation and unsupported allegations of fraud and illegality in order to convince her Republican colleagues that the election was over and that they each had a duty under the Constitution and federal law to uphold the right of all states, including Wyoming, to control and determine their own electoral college vote.

In response, Rep. Cheney was personally targeted by the former president, who told the angry partisans he’d summoned to Washington on Jan. 6th: “The Liz Cheneys of the world…we have to get rid of them.” Yet, Rep. Cheney stood her ground.

All Wyomingites committed to the rule of law should be proud of Rep. Cheney’s courage. In the face of calls to lawlessness from the highest places of her party, she adhered to her solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Whatever political differences any may have with her, in connection with the election and the events of Jan. 6th, we should all applaud her understanding of her constitutional duties and her willingness to perform them—irrespective of the personal or political cost she might pay.

Our country has many challenges to face in the days ahead. We call upon all of our elected leaders, at the state and federal levels, to follow the example of Rep. Cheney, and other responsible leaders from both parties, by recognizing the lawful results of the 2020 election. We ask that they recommit to the solemn oaths they swore to uphold and defend our Constitution. Living up to those oaths is the bedrock of the rule of law, the first principle of our democracy.

The events of Jan. 6th will be long remembered. May they never happen again.

Rule of Law Matters signatories July 17, 2022

John Araas, lawyer, Sheridan

Jim Belcher, lawyer, Casper

Ken Barbe, lawyer, Casper

Dave Freudenthal, Wyoming Governor (2003-11), lawyer, Cheyenne

Amberly Goodchild Baker, lawyer, Jackson

Kim Cannon, lawyer, Sheridan

Mike Davis, Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice, Sheridan, retired*

Richard Davis, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Sheridan

Tim Day, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., Wyoming District Judge (Teton County), retired*

Jean Day, lawyer, Jackson*

Jeffrey Donnell, Wyoming District Judge (Albany County), retired, lawyer, mediator Laramie

William Downes, Chief Judge, United States District Court For Wyoming, retired, mediator

Michael Golden, Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice, Cheyenne, retired, Cheyenne

Marilyn Kite, Justice, Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice, retired, Laramie

Matt Mead, Wyoming Governor (2011-2019), lawyer, Cheyenne

Megan Overmann Goetz, lawyer, Laramie

Paul Hickey, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Cheyenne

Dennis Kirven, lawyer, Buffalo

John Masterson, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Casper

Nick Murdock, lawyer, Casper

Rob Jarosh, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Cheyenne

Devon O’Connell, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Laramie

Anna Reeves Olsen, lawyer, Casper

Jerry Parkinson, former Dean, Wyoming College of Law

Bill Schwartz, Cheryl Ranck Schwartz, Margaret Schwartz, lawyers, Jackson

Leah Schwartz & Bradley Adams, lawyers, Jackson

Ken Stebner, Wyoming District Judge (Carbon County), retired

Mike Sullivan, Wyoming Governor (1987-95), U.S. Ambassador (Ireland), mediator, Casper

Wade Waldrip, Wyoming District Judge (Carbon County), retired

Rhonda Woodard, lawyer, Cheyenne

Gay Woodhouse, Wyoming Attorney General, Past President Wyoming Bar Assn., lawyer, Cheyenne

Norm Young, Wyoming District Judge (Fremont Count), retired

*Not a signatory to original publication

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