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Bar News - April 19, 2017


Opinion: ABA President: The Importance of Law Day and the 14th Amendment

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NHBA Matches Lawyers and Judges with Schools for Law Day - May 5

New Hampshire attorneys and judges have traditionally celebrated Law Day on the first Friday in May (May 5 this year) by visiting New Hampshire classrooms to make presentations to students of all grade levels, on a topic of law they have chosen or that the class has been studying.

The New Hampshire Bar Association helps coordinate classroom visits by New Hampshire lawyers and judges through its Law Related Education (LRE) department, as part of its “A Lawyer and Judge in Every School” (ALIES) program. This year, the American Bar Association’s selected Law Day theme is the Fourteenth Amendment. The NHBA’s Law Day web page provides attorneys and judges with resources not only about the Fourteenth Amendment, but also a variety of other topics aimed at reaching elementary, middle and high school classrooms, including “When Love Hurts,” a self-contained lesson on relationship violence for teens.

Sign up now to be matched with a classroom near your home or workplace by visiting the Law Day web page on the NH Bar Association website, www.nhbar.org, or by contacting Robin E. Knippers, Law Related Education coordinator.

Lawyers, let’s share our passion for constitutional democracy. Here are four legal puzzlers:

  • An African American student wants to attend the same school as white children. Can she?
  • A man is charged with burglary, but he can’t afford a lawyer. Should the state give him one for free?
  • Two men pass a worthless check and are convicted of misdemeanors. Can the state take away their right to vote because of those convictions?
  • Can states outlaw interracial marriage?

The answers are obvious – now. But that’s only because we have the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and nearly 150 years of Supreme Court rulings interpreting it.

Most Americans have no idea what the 14th Amendment is or how it affects their lives. But we do. And our job as lawyers is to defend individuals’ rights under the Constitution and to explain that great document to the public.

That’s the idea behind Law Day. Every year, lawyers across the country engage their communities and rally behind the rule of law. This year, the theme of Law Day is The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy – one of the most-litigated but least-known of all the constitutional amendments.

For more than a century, the 14th Amendment has been the legal basis for many major Supreme Court decisions, including those that desegregated schools (Brown v. Board of Education) and ensured counsel for criminal defendants (Gideon v. Wainwright).

The first section of the 14th Amendment – the part that’s most often litigated – states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

“The reason we have the 14th Amendment,” said former US Solicitor General Ted Olson, “is to provide the courts with the opportunity to override the will of the people when the will of the people discriminates against a segment of our society.”

This year, we’re asking lawyers to join judges and teachers across the country to engage students, elected officials and community leaders in Law Day discussions of the amendment’s significance.

There are many ways to celebrate Law Day. In Idaho, students are creating podcasts. In Boston, lawyers are visiting classrooms. In Texas and North Carolina, students are writing editorials, snapping photos and creating posters.

And in Washington, the American Bar Association will sponsor two special events. On May 1, a scholarly panel, led by Jeffrey Rosen, president of the National Constitution Center, will debate the 14th Amendment’s role in transforming American democracy. The next day, 150 high school students from around the country will discuss the ideas of equal protection, due process and liberty under the 14th Amendment. I will help lead the discussion.

Law Day dates back to the heart of the Cold War, nearly 60 years ago. In 1957, ABA President Charles Rhyne watched reports of the Soviet Union’s annual May Day celebration in Moscow’s Red Square, with its massive displays of military might. He thought that what made America great was its fidelity to the rule of law, not military power.

Rhyne asked President Dwight Eisenhower to issue the first Law Day proclamation, declaring that “guaranteed fundamental rights of individuals under the law is the heart and sinew of our Nation.” It has been a presidential tradition ever since.

Today, it often seems that we are a nation divided, but there is one thing that Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree on: The American rule of law is the envy of billions around the world.

So this May, let’s celebrate and spread the word. The US Constitution is America’s greatest creation. It is worth defending and teaching.


Linda Klein

Linda Klein is the current president of the American Bar Association.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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