It’s a time to examine and explore our freedoms.
Law Day is the annual celebration of the rule of law in a free society. On Feb. 5, 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower recognized the first Law Day when he proclaimed that henceforth, May 1 of each year would be Law Day in the United States.
He stated, “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.”
While the Soviet threat loomed, Law Day attracted a sizable following. In 1961, a headline in The New York Times reported, “100,000 Law Day Celebrations Take Place Throughout Nation.”
But as the Cold War waned, so did Law Day.
Today it is marked most notably by the American Bar Association, but celebrations by institutions other than courts and Bar associations are almost nonexistent.
This waning interest in celebrating the ideals of equality and justice under law challenges our ability to cultivate a respect for the rule of law and its place in our free society.
By celebrating Law Day, we each are called to rededicate ourselves to these ideals and to spread them among our society; to stimulate appreciation and critical thinking about the founding fundamentals that are so easily taken for granted.
Law Day 2019 is focused on “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” This year highlights the importance of free discourse as an important foundation of a free society.
On this day, we are called on to understand and protect these rights to ensure, as the U.S. Constitution proposes, “the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.” ABA President Bob Carlson, who selected this year’s theme, noted “The theme for Law Day 2019 is particularly relevant because these freedoms have dominated public discourse and debate recently. Law Day will give us all an opportunity to explore these freedoms by examining their history and considering their future.”
In the U.S. and around the world, freedom of speech and the press are among the most important foundations for a free society. Free speech and free press are prominent topics in public discourse and litigation.
It is impossible to imagine a free society without these individual liberties, yet historical and current debates surrounding them continually challenge us to consider their boundaries and resilience.
Law Day 2019 offers the opportunity to explore this pair of freedoms by probing their history and considering their future.
Should all speech be free? What is the role of government in regulating or protecting the press? Should speech or the press be constrained through laws or norms? Can a free society exist without free speech and free press?
Please help us celebrate Law Day and spread this message to other community and civic groups to which you belong.
The Jacksonville Bar Association is celebrating Law Day in several ways. For our member luncheon, we are honored to feature Mary Kelli Palka as our keynote speaker. As editor of The Florida Times-Union, Palka is on the front line of the debate about free speech and a free and independent press, and the sometimes-necessary constraints on these essential liberties.
At the member luncheon, the JBA will present our Liberty Bell Award in recognition of outstanding service by someone who has given time and energy to help foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the law and our legal community.
The association also fosters a celebration of the rule of law this month by providing volunteer speakers in schools, holding poster contests encouraging children to learn about their rights and liberties, and through several fundraising efforts.
Please join us in celebrating the respect for law that is so vital to our democratic way of life, and remember the role lawyers always have played in creating and defending our liberties.
Katie Dearing is a 4th Judicial Circuit judge and president of the Jacksonville Bar Association.