"This is a notorious case, with a notorious defendant. Yet we must take care to enforce the Constitution without regard to the nature of the crime or the nature of the criminal.
The Fourth Amendment protects 'the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.'
This right is a basic one of all the people, without exception; the Amendment's protection is thus made effective for everyone only by upholding it when invoked by the worst of men."
Abel v United States
The quote above is from a case in 1960 dramatized in the award winning film Bridge of Spies. In this true to life film, attorney James Donovan defends a notorious foreign spy, Rudolph Abel.
Abel is caught virtually red-handed but also with methods that do not meet the standards of 4th amendment protections. Donovan is given the unenviable task of having to defend him. Donovan, a true patriot (having fought in World War II), understands that to truly protect America in the long run from tyranny, we must not abandon our principles even with the "worst of men". He understands that even a Communist spy has rights. This -- our principles -- is who we as Americans really are.
Many of the amendments included in the Bill of Rights were viewed by the Framers of the Constitution as inalienable or rights inherent in all men -- not just citizens. These were things all humans should possess. At times in the history of the United States, we have not treated these inalienable rights as such but there always seems to be at least a few men who are willing to stand up for these natural rights even at great cost. Even if knocked down, they stand again, refusing to yield to even a hint of tyranny.
This relentless lawyer James Donovan would get shot at, threatened even by police and the CIA but would take the struggle all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing before them as dramatized in the film:
"I know this man. [Russian spy Abel]
"I know this man. [Russian spy Abel]
If the charge is true, he serves a foreign power --
but he serves it faithfully. If he
is a soldier in the opposing army --
he is a good soldier. He has not
fled the battle to save himself; he
has refused to serve his captor, he
refused to betray his cause, he has
refused to take the coward’s way
out. The coward must abandon his
dignity before he abandons the field
of battle. That, Rudolf Abel will
Shouldn’t we, by giving
him the full benefit of the rights
that define our system of
governance, show this man who we
are? Who we are: is that not the
greatest weapon we have in this Cold
War? Will we stand by our cause
less resolutely than he stands by
Through the course of this fight, spy Abel grew to appreciate the kindness and steadfast commitment to the American principles Donovan showed. He recognized him for what he was. He called it in Russian "Stoikey Muzhik".
At the end of the film, Donovan is standing on a bridge about to exchange Abel for an American held in Russian custody. Donovan was trying to also gain the release of a young American held in East German custody but time had run out and the CIA handlers insisted Abel cross. In the confusing conversational melee, Abel perceived that Donovan was fighting for another man.
Looking at Donovan, Abel simply said, "Stoikey Muzhik."
"I can wait." Abel then said. Only after the East Germans released the other man did Abel cross.
On the plane ride back home, Donovan opened a gift Abel had left for him. It was a portrait of Donovan drawn by Abel while in prison.
Respect for men of character knows no borders.
Respect for standing men.
"Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will stand up."