By: Jeffrey Lapin
May 1, 2013, marks Law Day 2013, an annual tradition since 1958. Law Day is a day to mark the United States’ commitment to the rule of law. This year’s Law Day theme is “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All” and is focused on civil rights and the impact it has had in promoting equality under the law. Law Day is celebrated and acknowledged in a number of ways including by members of the legal professional going to schools and making presentations about the year’s Law Day theme, which is chosen by the American Bar Association. The Lincoln Bar Association will again be making presentations to a number of high schools in Lincoln, Nebraska.
HISTORY OF LAW DAY
The first Law Day was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. In 1961, Congress issued a joint resolution designating May 1 as the official date for celebrating Law Day, which is subsequently set forth in the United States Code, Title 36, Section 113. This law states:
(a) Designation. May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.
(b) Purpose. Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States –
(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and
(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.
(c) Proclamation. The President is requested to issue a proclamation
(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and
(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.
Since 1961, every president has issued a Law Day proclamation on May 1. People can read these Presidential Proclamations as the Library of Congress has links to each of the proclamations through 2011 within its Law Day section: Executive Branch.
The American Bar Association (ABA) choses each year’s theme and prepares material for teachers, presenters and other people interested in celebrating Law Day. Prior Law Days themes have included:
2012: No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom
2011: The Legacy of John Adams from Boston to Guantanamo
2010: Law in the 21st Century: Enduring Traditions, Emerging Challenges
2009: A Legacy of Liberty – Celebrating Lincoln’s Bicentennial
2008: The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity
NOTEWORTHY EQUALITY ANNIVERSARIES IN 2013
This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As everyone knows the Emancipation Proclamation, given by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, freed the slaves in states and territories that were in rebellion, which were primarily the southern states. It begins:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
This year also is the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech. On August 28, 1963, Dr. King gave his infamous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to over 250,000 civil rights supporters. Some of the most highly cited excerpts from the speech are:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood …
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character …
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation this must become true …
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children … will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Both of these has significantly and long-lasting effects on civil rights and equality in the United States.
LAW DAY 2013 THEME
This year’s Law Day theme is: “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.” There are two significant civil rights and equality anniversaries that go along with this year’s theme: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation; and the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream Speech” given in Washington, D.C.. As the ABA’s website states:
Law Day, May 1, 2013, will provide an opportunity to explore the movement for civil and human rights in America and the impact it has had in promoting the ideal of equality under the law. It will provide a forum for reflecting on the work that remains to be done in rectifying injustice, eliminating all forms of discrimination, and putting an end to human trafficking and other violations of our basic human rights. As Rev. Dr. King pointed out in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Contained within the ABA’s Law Day material is a very good summary about this year’s equality theme, which it offers can be published as a Letter to the Editor:
The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement can be seen today in the progress that has been made against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sexual orientation.
Law Day 2013 provides an opportunity for reflection on the struggle for civil rights in America and the impact that the struggle has had in promoting the ideal of equality under the law. It also provides an occasion to consider the work that remains to be done in rectifying injustice and eliminating discrimination. As Dr. King observed in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This Law Day, let us rededicate ourselves to promoting the great principle of equality under the law enshrined in our nation’s founding documents.
LINCOLN BAR ASSOCIATION’S LAW DAY ACTIVITIES
For several years the Lincoln Bar Association (LBA) has celebrated Law Day by presenting to local high schools. The Governor, Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court and Attorney General usually lead off the festivities by presenting to an assembly. Lawyers who practice in Lincoln as well as judges also participate by presenting to classes of students. The LBA has a Law Day Committee, this year chaired by Milissa Johnson-Wiles, which develops a program and recruits attorney and judges to present. This year, rather than using the ABA materials, the LBA created its own presentation, which is designed to highlight the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in deciding civil rights issues. The bulk of the presentation will have students reenact portions of oral argument in the case of Briggs v. Elliott, one of the cases consolidated and known as Brown v. Board of Education. Presenters will be given additional information regarding civil rights laws and events as well as have a timeline prepared by this Author. LBA’s opening ceremony for Law Day 2013 will take place at Lincoln High School at 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. with Governor Dave Heineman, Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican and Attorney General Jon Bruning. This author is the contact person for Southwest High School and will also be presenting to three classes there as well.
- American Bar Association: Law Day
- Library of Congress: Law Day
- National Archives and Records Administration: The Emancipation Proclamation
- National Archives: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream …” Speech
Law Day is an important day as it recognizes the ideals of equality and justice under law. As John Locke stated, “For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom.” The law has many purposes, one of which is to protect and preserve freedom, which encompasses that people are treated equal. I am proud to have served on the LBA Law Day Committee for three years and presented for even more than that.
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ABOUT LAPIN LAW OFFICES
Lapin Law Offices is a proud supporter of Law Day. We fight injustice and inequality as it is a threat to justice, the rule of law and our freedom.