Law Day Celebrates Rule of Law

Many, many years ago my family visited Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It was summer, less than a year after he had been assassinated. I remember that despite the August heat, the lines were very long, that the respectful silence was palpably overpowering. No one spoke as the line made its way slowly to the site in the cemetery. The eternal flame fascinated me. My father explained that this flame was to honor a youthful fallen president who had spoken so eloquently in his inaugural address about liberty, and "... the glow from that fire can truly light the world." He also told me that each of us, as Americans, was a keeper of the flame of liberty. Today, attorneys have an essential role as visible keepers of the flame.

In this an election year, we are bombarded by the dissonance of the candidates and pundits. One of the tactics employed by various candidates or their public relations gurus is to define the opponent in a negative or limiting light, causing that opponent to respond in a defensive posture, deflecting attributed unfavorable characteristics while attempting to affirm positive positions. Perhaps we as lawyers similarly have allowed others for so many years to define our profession and our judicial system in similar negative or limiting descriptions. We should affirmatively strive to define who we are, what we do, and why our role is so essential to protect America and freedoms. We will continue to impact our communities positively through our volunteer efforts " on non-profit boards, through pro bono contributions, through legal actions to ensure access to justice for all. Sometimes the simplicity of a timeless positive message, the quiet statement, drowns out the cacophony of negative opposition.

It has been stated that America's future walks through the doors of our schools each day. Unfortunately, with the advent of programs that focus increasingly on subjects other than civics, America's future, its students, does not have the same exposure to essential civics education. The Tennessee Bar Association, through several programs, attempts to make up the deficit in the lack of civics as a taught subject through programs such as the mock trial competition in high school, or the programs in elementary school featuring story tale trials. Fundamental understanding of civics " not only a rich history of our country, but the mechanics of how our government works, the why behind our system " is essential. As lawyers we need to focus on restoring civics education in our schools, enhancing public awareness of the legal system, and make civics as a required subject a priority. Legislation in Tennessee has not been successful to date, but as keepers of the flame, Tennessee attorneys need to rally around efforts to restore civic lessons in curricula in our schools.

Fifty years ago in May, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the first Law Day proclamation. It was written that this president had viewed other countries' military celebrations in May, and wanted to counter the anti-American sentiment by celebrating the rule of law through a day of national dedication. The first such dedication, as have those that followed, focused on our American legal system and its foundations of liberty, justice and equality. Historically, Law Day has celebrated liberty, foundations of freedom, the unity of our nation through its people, a quest for equality and protection of our freedoms. Our Constitution and body of law protect our freedoms and rights - due process, right to assemble, freedom of speech and of press, freedom of religion. Throughout time, lawyers have proudly served as keepers of the flame to protect what we as Americans hold dear, and yet take for granted.

Annually, Law Day is celebrated throughout the state, with recognition and celebration of winners at the annual TBA convention. Law Day occurs at a local level, with competition sponsored by metropolitan bar associations. The Nashville Law Day is celebrated April 29; Knoxville Bar Association sponsors a luncheon on May 1, and Memphis bar associations join for an entire week devoted to recognition of law. Justice Koch has accepted an invitation from the Chattanooga Bar Association to speak at the fiftieth year celebration of Law Day on May 14. The focus this year is "The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity." Our profession is in the forefront as the torch is passed to future generations " we recognize that the rule of law is a very basic foundation that secures for us the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy.

Focus on communities serves to illustrate application of legal principals and the impact of the rule of law at a local level. This is essential to an understanding that law is not national in scope, but begins at our community level, with our profession.

Our country has faced many challenges since its birth. How the challenges have been addressed makes our country a strong democracy. The promise of its future, and our nation's future generations, truly sets this nation apart. Despite attacks on freedoms, the rule of law remains immutable, the foundation for our recognition and protection of our rights.

A government such as ours is complex. It is not an easy process. Each of the three governmental branches " executive, legislative and judicial "serves as a check and balance. Each of the three is essential to our foundations. The constant tug and pull, tug and pull, among these three branches serve to make the entire government and its people unified, that much stronger. It is our right and privilege to voice our concerns, to squabble openly about issues and governance, and our duty as lawyers to protect our freedoms.

At times such as these, when there are challenges with no known solutions, lawyers and our profession should shine as an example to others. As lawyers, we address conflicts and determine appropriate solutions.

At times such as these, I am so proud to be an American, so proud to be a lawyer involved in protecting our freedoms, and ensuring liberty and equality. I am proud of the legacy of service that lawyers have, the foundation that lawyers build upon, and look forward to our continued role as keepers of the flame, and in passing the torch to future generations.