A VERY SHORT SPEECH ON LAW DAY
This Saturday, May 1st, is Law Day, the annual day when we Americans should celebrate one of the things that makes America great … the Rule of Law.
May 1st has been National Law Day for over a half century, since President Eisenhower proclaimed it so in 1958, but unfortunately, hardly anyone recognizes it. It is not a national holiday like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or Labor Day. Most Americans are not even aware of it. Hallmark does not make a Law Day greeting card. (“It’s Law Day! Have you hugged your lawyer?”).
This is a shame because in our increasingly divided nation, we Americans need to understand and appreciate the Rule of Law, and how it should bring us together.
The best definition of the Rule of Law was by the great Tennessee Senator Howard Baker. He said the Rule of Law “is the latticework that civilization uses for ordering people’s relationships with each other and to govern their conduct. The law is not just statutes or precedent. It’s not Supreme Court decision or any other court’s decisions. The law is an accumulation of the determination of mankind to find ways to get along, to respect each other, to have a decent respect for different points of view, and to translate this agreement into some sort of resolution. That’s what the Rule of Law is, and without it, we would not have civilization.”
What a marvelous metaphor, the latticework of civilization!
We Americans should cherish and celebrate it … and live it in our shared lives, both public and private.
And we should particularly remember it on Law Day.
I have had one Law Day in my life I will never forget. It was in 2000, when I had the honor of serving as President of the Memphis Bar Association. I was asked to be the speaker that day at Law Day Naturalization Ceremonies. This was the perfect celebration for Law Day as I welcomed several of our country’s newest citizens.
I prepared a speech for that occasion, but I never gave it. After I was introduced to the group of new citizens, I walked up to the podium, looked out at their faces, and was overwhelmed.
I pushed aside the notes for the speech I was going to give, and instead I gave the shortest speech of my life. I said, “On June 10, 1952, I became a citizen of the United States of America. But unlike you, I did nothing to earn it or deserve it. I was born in this country. You have earned your citizenship. You are what this country is all about. I am grateful to you, and proud to call you my fellow Americans.”
Having said that, I sat down.
I will remember that Law Day this coming Saturday and how I was inspired by my new fellow citizens of our great country.
Happy Law Day, everyone!