It is sad but also entirely fitting both to mourn the loss and to celebrate the life of Chief Justice William S. Richardson within the context of the Fourth of July. The remarkable outpouring of admiration and deep affection for Hawaii’s legendary "CJ," who passed away June 21 at the age of 90, underscores how directly this humble, sensitive and great man devoted his life to fulfilling the central promise of the Declaration of Independence.
A consistent thread connects CJ Richardson’s judicial decisions—such as those granting public access to beaches and water rights to those downstream—with his tenacious fight to create a law school in Hawaii that would offer a first-rate legal education to all qualified students, no matter what their background or economic status. CJ was low-key, but he persistently and very effectively sought equality and opportunity for all.
The path-breaking, central vision in the Declaration of Independence may be found in its opening statement about "self-evident" truths. These are: "That all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." This bold assertion of human equality marked a radical departure in the late 18th century, and it still seems so boldly visionary today.
It is noteworthy but often forgotten, however, that the Declaration immediately follows its proclamation of unalienable rights with a further assertion: "That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed."
Thus it is clear that the Declaration is anything but anti-government. unalienable rights, according to these American revolutionaries, will not be secure without government protection. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—as well as the new promise of equality—could not simply be left to the marketplace or to the vagaries of some natural order. Rather, the prevailing social contract assumptions demanded government assistance, understood to be necessary "to secure these rights."
This concept may seem paradoxical, to be sure, just as there is a deep paradox within the fact that Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration’s stirring words about unalienable rights and equality, was himself and remained a major slave owner. But the lifework of CJ Richardson helps resolve the apparent paradox regarding the role of government and of law.
In fact, as our outstanding columnist Lee Cataluna recently wrote, the theme of CJ’s entire career was "that the law should be used to protect and fight for people who don’t have the power to fight for themselves." As a veteran of both World War II and the rugged political battles that followed in Hawaii, CJ understood the importance of fighting for principles. Yet for CJ and his colleagues—and for several thousand alumni of his law school—those ideals included an abiding public commitment to open up access to the kind of legal education that would be most likely to produce the right kind of lawyers.
Within CJ’s vision, such lawyers must be able to combine outstanding craftsmanship with kind but still determined advocacy. They should demonstrate unusual empathy for others, particularly for those in need as well as substantial devotion to the public interest and great appreciation for fun.
That the very diverse but also very cohesive William S. Richardson School of Law strives to realize CJ’s dream suggests that it is still possible to stand for principles and to advocate for ideals as well as to enjoy life fully.
In Hawaii, that dream remains inextricably linked for all time to the life and legacy of CJ—a determined optimist who, with humble nobility and generous humanity, sought to secure rights and opportunities for all.
Dean and professor, UH-Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law