Local Voice: Taking a look at Law Day

By Fred Mester

On May 1, 2011, we in the United States will celebrate Law Day. Law Day originated during the Cold War in order to contrast the Rule of Law with Communist celebrations of May Day, celebrated also on May 1. The idea was to contrast our great heritage of liberty, justice and equality under law with the Soviet Bloc devaluing legal institutions and the rule of law. President Dwight David Eisenhower established the date with a presidential proclamation on April 30, 1958. Under the Kennedy Administration, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1961, permanently designating May 1 "Law Day U.S.A."

The purpose of Law Day is to remind each of us of the Founders admonition that this new government was to be a government of laws, not of men. This unique idea, spawned of the revolution, has contributed more to the molding of America's character than any other single factor. Throughout our history we as a people have been challenged by crises that would have destroyed a people, a country that was not so founded. Crises such as war, civil war, and economic depression were unable to shake the enduring quality of the law through the 235 years of America's existence.

It is difficult to capture the spirit of our legal system in one day. Law is, by its nature, complex and technical. Many people tend to view the law with impatience and oftentimes even cynicism. Yet law is one of the deepest concerns of all civilized people everywhere for it offers protection against tyranny on the one hand, and anarchy on the other. It is one of society's chief investments for preserving both freedom and order from arbitrary interferences by individuals, by classes or by government itself.

The greatness of America consists of many things. The vision of the Founding Fathers, our bountiful resources which a generous Creator has endowed on this continent; the courage and determination of generations of pioneers; the devotion and diligence of many who spent their lives building it; the broad diversity of immigrants who came in quest of freedom and opportunity; the idealism of those who, believing in God, were inspired to put their faith in humankind's endless potentialities; its writers and poets, its painters and sculptors; its inventors and entrepreneurs. The Rule of Law has provided the environment for each individual to have a certainty of opportunity, to bloom to his/her full potential and play their special part in making the greatness of America.

The law protects the rights of each religion, giving preeminence to none. It makes the inherent dignity of each person the basis of that person's rights, not the class into which they were born, the altar at which they bow or the color of their skin. It set up a system which limits the people and mechanisms of government, restraining them from undue exercise of power. It recognized an authority greater than itself when it affirmed the inalienable rights of every person. It protected the weak against the aggressiveness of the strong, the humble against the highborn.

The law is more than procedure, document or statute. It is alive with the sensitivity and ideals of the people at their highest. It is the bulwark of freedom and the bastion of progress.

The law's greatest source of strength lies not within its judges, lawyers, or police. The law's greatest source of strength lies in the respect which American citizens accord it, the esteem in which they hold it, the recognition that it is the guarantor of their freedom.

In order for this legacy of our founders for the rules of law to continue for the generations to follow as the basis for our participating democracy, it requires that each of us maintain eternal vigilance. Abraham Lincoln spoke to this in his speech to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, on January 27, 1837, when he said, "This, our duty to ourselves and to our posterity, . . . imperatively requires us to perform. . . . Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in the almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation."

On this Law Day, we pledge ourselves to that respect for an appreciation of the law as will enable it to remain guardian of our freedom and the protector of our rights.

"We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free."

-- Cicero

"The conciliation upon which God hath given liberty is eternal vigilance"

-- John Philpot Curran

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Fred M. Mester is a retired Oakland County Circuit Court Judge.

Published: Thu, Apr 28, 2011

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