Law Day is the annual opportunity to understand how the law contributes to freedom, justice and equality.
In 1957, American Bar Association President Charles Rhyne proposed an observance to celebrate the legal system. A year later, President Dwight Eisenhower was the first to proclaim Law Day to be a national dedication to the principle of government under law.
In 1961, Congress, in a joint resolution, designated May 1 as the official date to observe Law Day, codifying that it “is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States … 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;
“ … for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life ... 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.”
Each year, the ABA selects a theme for Law Day. This year, it is “Advancing the Rule of Law Now,” declaring that the rule of law is the “bedrock of American rights and liberties in times of calm and unrest alike.”
The online edition of Black’s Law Dictionary describes it this way:
“The concept of the rule of law goes back to ancient times and it can essentially be summed up by the well-known phrase, ‘nobody is above the law.’ In other words, in a governing system based on the rule of law, everybody is held equally accountable under the same laws.
“In contrast, a system that is based upon the rule of men, such as a tyranny, monarchy, theocracy, or oligarchy, occurs when governance, laws, and the administration of justice are determined by the interests of a single person or group of people.”
Here is what the rule of law means to members of Jacksonville’s legal community:
Andrew Miller, President of the Jacksonville Justice Associaton
Laws are meant to codify the values of the people they will govern. As those values change, the laws change with them.
In order to ensure that our laws and our values conform, those who write the laws must listen to those who will be required to live under them. The values of the people might be expressed in many ways, including votes, civic participation and lawful protest.
It is the duty of our lawmakers, and our law enforcers, to respect these voices, as they are the embodiment of our collective values, of our rule of law.
Cyndy Trimmer, President of the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association
I’ll bet if you polled 20 lawyers about what the phrase “rule of law” means, you would get 20 different answers.
It is one of those phrases we all understand to be powerful, but the import can be different for each of us.
As an advocate for women in the legal profession, I see this year’s Law Day theme as an opportunity for discussion regarding roadblocks to equity within the law, the role of rules and regulations (think presumptive continuances for parental leave as just one example), and where responsibility for advancing solutions lies.
David Dunlap, Chapter President of the American Board of Trial Advocates Jacksonville
The rule of law is an ambiguous term and may mean different things in different contexts and to different groups of people.
Never has this been more true than in the current status of American history in the areas of immigration law; rights of citizens and noncitizens; access to basic human rights; application of the law on an equal and transparent basis; and the boundaries of civil obedience/disobedience in the pursuit of justice.
The courts and our judges are charged with the responsibility to ensure the laws are correctly applied to all. The rule of law, through the court system, should guarantee that we are never treated unfairly or deprived of our rights.
It will only be through the adherence and preservation of the rule of law that we as a people can truly be secure, safe, prosperous and free.
Timothy Corrigan, Chief U.S. District Judge, Middle District of Florida
In these times of increased polarization, there is still one basic tenet on which virtually all Americans agree: That we are governed by the Constitution and the rule of law.
That’s because Americans understand that adherence to the rule of law is vital to our nation’s identity and continuity. Whether it’s obeying traffic laws, paying taxes or respecting a court’s ruling, the vast majority of American citizens willingly comply with the law because they know it’s the price we pay to live in a civilized society.
This Law Day, I hope we can all appreciate the principle of the rule of law and remember to never take it for granted.
Michael Fox Orr, President-elect of the Jacksonville Bar Association
Nothing is more important to an organized and thriving society than the rule of law.
Whether in a time of war or peace, riots or calm, debate or agreement, the rule of law serves as a guiding light to order and freedom. It gives us the opportunity for accountability and accessible justice. It will not be perfect, but it will always be needed.
We should never stop the hard work necessary to advance the rule of law in Jacksonville and abroad.