Michael Miller delivered the following remarks at the New York State Court of Appeals Law Day program earlier today:
We gather together on Law Day in this very special edifice devoted to the pursuit of justice.
This is a day on which we celebrate the rule of law in our constitutional democracy and reflect on the role of law in the foundation of our nation.
This year, our focus is on freedom of expression, the very bedrock upon which our constitutional democracy is built.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed an unprecedented assault upon this precious freedom - an assault which is both dangerous and alarming - an assault that undermines the American public's confidence in our most basic institutions of government including Congress, the Executive Branch and the Judiciary, as well as the press.
The vitality and the very future of our constitutional democracy is threatened when public confidence in democracy's most basic institutions and ideals is lost.
The past has shown us that freedom of expression is tyranny's greatest enemy.
Throughout history, when authoritarian leaders have been unhappy with perceived criticism from the news media and others, they have often referred to those critics as the "enemies of the people."
Thereafter, frequently, blood has flowed, and people have died.
Former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara commented at a forum during the State Bar's Annual Meeting earlier this year that democracy runs on the honor system.
When confidence in the fundamental underpinnings of our system is eroded, that honor system is threatened.
When the President of the United States directs subordinates to disregard duly issued subpoenas, democracy's honor system is breached, and damage to the rule of law is done.
When the President derides the judiciary whenever unhappy with a judicial decision, confidence in our system of government is eroded -- and damage is done.
When a judge, duly approved by Congress, is referred to by the President as a "so-called judge," damage is done.
When the press is attacked as an institution because the President is unhappy with news media coverage;
When lawful investigations are described as "witch hunts";
When the President labels any unflattering or critical story "fake news";
When the President declares that the press is "the enemy of the people" -- damage is done.
My friends, language matters and can have a profound impact.
Adolf Hitler's Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, frequently referred to Jews as "a sworn enemy of the German people" who posed a risk to the fuehrer's vision for Nazi Germany.
Goebbels wrote, "If someone wears the Jewish star, he is an enemy of the people."
This dangerous rhetoric and strategy of constant attack on adversaries used by Hitler and others in Nazi Germany led to some of the darkest days in modern history.
During a period referred to as the "Reign of Terror" after the French Revolution, a law was enacted that established a special tribunal to punish the "enemies of the people."
Countless thousands were declared enemies of the people for crimes that included "spreading false rumors" and were summarily sent to the guillotine.
Lenin is quoted as saying that he found "instructive" the French policies against "enemies of the people."
Both Lenin and Stalin employed the term to all who disagreed with their policies or ideology, from political opposition leaders to members of the press, to members of the clergy who opposed state-mandated atheism, to people who wrote critical articles.
Being called an enemy of the people could result in immediate imprisonment, banishment to a Russian Gulag, or worse.
During the harshest days of the cultural revolution in China, Mao Tse-tung declared, "the social forces and groups which resist the socialist revolution and are hostile to or sabotage socialist construction are all enemies of the people."
It is frightening when any leader regularly uses language from the tyrants' lexicon.
It is absolutely horrifying when that language is used by the President of the United States of America.
And, make no mistake about it, those words and the ideas they represent threaten the free press right now:
In Myanmar, two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have been jailed for more than 16 months, after they reported on the government's massacre of members of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority.
In the Philippines, 80 journalists have been killed in the past 25 years - more than 30 in the past two years - and the current president continues to target individual reporters as well as the news media in general.
And let us not forget the grotesquely brutal murder in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, may he rest in peace.
Here in the United States of America, we have not seen such an assault on the truth and free expression as we are witnessing today since the McCarthy era in the 1950s.
One difference, however, is that in today's digital age, an avalanche of utterly baseless claims and insults are tweeted and then repeated in the social media echo-chamber over and over and over and over again.
Through social media campaigns, there have been serious attacks on the essential institutions of our government, and real damage has been done to the public's confidence in these institutions.
Now, I am by no means suggesting that we cannot or should not take issue with any media coverage.
But it is unfair and deeply dangerous to question without a modicum of evidence the integrity of the news media simply for criticizing or challenging political leaders.
President Ronald Reagan warned that democracy is fragile.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.
We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream.
It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
Recently, State Bar President-Elect Hank Greenberg gave an extraordinary lecture about the inspiring leadership of Charles Evans Hughes during America's first red scare in 1919.
As Hank noted, by defending the right of 5 duly elected socialists to take their seats in the NYS Assembly, Hughes courageously demonstrated 100 years ago the importance of taking a principled stand when fundamental values are at risk.
Make no mistake, some of the most fundamental values of our democracy are profoundly at risk in ways that we have never seen before in our lifetime.
It is essential for each of us, members of our great and noble profession, to honor our oath to protect and defend the Constitution and the America we cherish.
That oath that each of us took demands of us a special obligation to defend America's values and its vital institutions.
These are no ordinary times, for these are the times that try our souls.
We dare not sit idly by on the sidelines as mere witnesses to the erosion of public confidence in the fundamental institutions of democracy and freedom.
My friends, without a free press, there is no free society.
We must protect the freedom of the press, what George Mason referred to in 1776 as "one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty."
The ideals enunciated in our Constitution and Bill of Rights have made America great.
Our duty is to keep it so.
We are confronted by a crisis of profound proportion - a massive and considered assault on everything we as lawyers are sworn to protect.
What we do now will long be remembered -- and will define us for history.
God Bless You.
God Bless this Honorable Court.
And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
Watch President Miller's remarks here.