Since 1776, when Thomas Jefferson drafted his immortal introduction to the Declaration of Independence, the American way of life has been predicated on the assertion that “all men are created equal.”
However, from civil rights to women’s suffrage, many have struggled ever since to ensure that principle is applied to all factions of the population. And so it is, on the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of both Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the Equal Pay Act, that the American Bar Association (ABA) dedicated this year’s Law Day – recognized nationwide each year on May 1 – to the premise of “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All”.
The topic is vital for MSBA President John P. Kudel, who dedicated his own year at the helm of MSBA to the tenets of civility, professionalism, courtesy, and respect.
“Although Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was aimed primarily at racial discrimination, the legacy of the civil rights movement can be seen today in the advances that have been made against other forms of discrimination, including gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation,” says Kudel.
Indeed, with Maryland among those states at the forefront of recently adopting same-sex marriage statutes – legislation MSBA endorsed in early 2012, and subsequently signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley and then upheld by public referendum last November – issues of equality are hot topics throughout the state’s legal community and general public alike.
But, Kudel notes, much work remains to be done toward ensuring equal treatment throughout society. Regarding the perennial issue of gender inequality, for example, Kudel contends that “women remain grossly underrepresented in positions of power, influence, and leadership, and continue to earn less than their male counterparts.”
Moreover, he adds that human trafficking – “a modern-day form of slavery” – holds “between 20 and 27 million men, women, and children” in bondage. The issue has been a top priority for ABA President Laurel G. Bellows this year.
“[This] Law Day, lawyers are taking the lead in the fight against inequality in all its forms,” says Bellows. “We speak out for fairness while acting as the guardians of justice. It is time to break the silence and speak more loudly about the persistent abuses in our country.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally established the first Law Day in 1958, a year after ABA President Charles S. Rhyne proposed instituting a special day for celebrating America’s unique commitment to the rule of law. In 1961, Congress officially designated May 1 as Law Day. On or about that date each year, bar associations around the country present Law Day programs to enhance public understanding of and appreciation for the rule of law. Past themes have included “Liberty Under the Law: Separate Branches, Balanced Powers”, “The American Jury: We the People in Action”, and “To Win Equality by Law: Brown v. Board at 50”.
More than 200 high school students and teachers from across Maryland attended MSBA’s own Law Day Conference, a joint presentation of the MSBA Public Awareness Committee and the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program held April 30 at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center in Baltimore. Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, a regular fixture of the Law Day Conference and lifelong champion for equality since organizing a 1960 sit-in at the segregated Hooper’s Restaurant in Baltimore, delivered the keynote address – his last before he retires this July.
Other Law Day activities around the state included the Baltimore County Bar Association’s Art and Essay Contests (open to students grades K-12) as well as its Annual Law Day Breakfast. And in western Maryland, Maryland Legal Aid and the Washington County Bar Association co-sponsored a Pro Bono/Law Day offering free legal advice.