2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech.
Five decades later, Dr. King’s inspirational speech continues to resonate and challenge each of us to live up to our national ideal of equality for all under the law. While much progress has been made, the dream still has not totally become a reality. As Dr. King stated in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
One of the reasons that our founders adopted a three-part coequal branch government was to help guarantee fairness for all under the law. None of our three branches of government, the executive, the legislative, or the judiciary are perfect, but they are equal and serve as checks and balances on each other.
Our court system and the legal decisions that judges and juries make in the “real world” reflect that things are rarely clear cut. Our governing system is created to try and find a balance in our treatment of each other. “Fairness” often depends on the context and often involves one or more compromises to find what is fair under these particular circumstances. Throughout our history, our judicial system has played an important role in ensuring fairness and equality. Addressing issues such as unequal pay, racial discrimination, and religious prejudice, our legal system has served as a “referee” in many disputes over what well-intentioned people believe is fair in a particular situation.
Fairness and equality under the law is not an easy or exact concept to define. Our courts and legal system, including citizen jurors, must consider various aspects of a situation when ensuring and protecting equality and fairness. While much progress has been made since Lincoln’s promise and since Dr. King’s speech, much work remains to be done to realize the dream of equality in the United States. Even slavery, which most of us would think has been abolished, continues to raise its ugly head in modern day human trafficking where men, women, and children are forced into slavery, usually for sex, even within our own borders.
As Robert H. Jackson, former Supreme Court justice said: “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”
As Dr. King also said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
So, this Law Day is a good opportunity for each of us to think about whether our own thoughts and actions are moving us and our government closer to realizing the dream of equality for all.
The idea of a national law day was conceived in 1957 by American Bar Association President Charles Rhynes and in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the first Law Day. In 1961, the U.S. Congress issued a joint resolution making May 1 each year the official Law Day.
Thank you for the opportunity of serving as your Circuit Judge in the 56th Judicial Circuit consisting of Caldwell, Livingston, Lyon, and Trigg counties, where we seek fairness for all, under the law, guided by common sense and conscience.