A rabbi, a pastor, and more than a dozen lawyers walked into Sheppard Pratt Conference Center. However, what may sound like the beginning of a bad joke was actually the soul of MSBA’s 2013 Law Day event, “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All”, held on April 30, 2013, at the Conference Center in Baltimore.
Every year, judges, attorneys, and various other public officials volunteer for the day-long event in order to provide high school students with a better grasp on America’s laws – past, present, future.
It has been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. These ideals continue to resonate and challenge us to strive for the principle of equality under the law. The Law Day presenters spoke on the advances in religious, voting, LGBT, disability, and women’s rights to more than 200 high school students and teachers from 16 schools, spanning across the state.
“Civil rights have been expanded to include human rights,” said John Kudel, MSBA President, while opening the program. “Law Day will provide a forum for reflecting on the work that remains to be done.“
“I look forward to Law Day, particularly when dealing with young people,” said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Maryland Court of Appeals. “The new crop of young people give you an opportunity to renew the message and inspire them.”
Chief Judge Bell gave the keynote address in the morning, speaking on the value of the rule of law in society. His address may be the last time he speaks to the Law Day students after his retirement this July.
“The subject of equality is of interest to everyone,” said Rick Miller, Executive Director at Citizenship Law Related Education Program, which administers the event with MSBA’s Public Awareness Committee.
The day’s programs attempted to include current hot topics in civil rights and equality.
“The struggle for LGBT rights is a civil rights movement,” said Mark Scurti, a partner at Pessin Katz Law. “The importance of realizing the dream of equality, particularly today, is a significant task. There is a strong movement for LGBT legal rights in this country and Maryland has been a progressive state.”
Scurti presented a “LGBT Squares” game (similar to the television show Hollywood Squares) in his session, “Marriage Equality and the Struggle for LGBT Rights”.
“It is important to interact with really bright students and get a sense of their experiences with disabilities,” said Gary Norman, Associate Civil Rights Commissioner.
“One of the things the students helped us to learn is that people with disabilities are all around us,” George Failla, Jr., Deputy Secretary, Maryland Department of Disabilities. “It’s a part of everyone’s life.”
Norman and Failla were joined by Day Al Mohamed, Senior Advisor on Policy at the Department of Labor, in the “Equality and Equal Opportunity for All” session, focusing on disability rights.
“What we wanted to convey to the students was there still are ways that women are not equal,” said L. Tracy Brown, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Center. “Some of the laws are in place but many of the laws aren’t implemented in a way that has made women equal.”
Brown was joined by Mary Keating, Project Director of the Women’s Law Center’s Employment Law Hotline; Michele McDonald, Assistant Attorney General and Women’s Law Center board member; and Kathryn Hummel, attorney at Kaufman, Ries & Elgin, P.A., for “The Search for Equal Treatment for Women and Men” session, focusing on women’s rights. This session broke the students up into four teams to play a Jeopardy type game.
Other sessions were “Voting Rights” hosted by the Hon. Pamila Brown, District Court for Howard County, and “Religious Freedom & the Struggle for Equality” hosted by Rabbi Binyamin Marwick and Pastor Heather Kirk Davidoff.
The afternoon session was highlighted by a presentation from Larry S. Gibson, author of Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice, a biography on the life of Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native and the first African American Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Gibson, a University of Maryland Carey School of Law Professor, spoke on the early life and misconceptions of Justice Marshall and interacted with the students in a question and answer session.
After Gibson spoke, the audience watched a video on the structure of the court system, followed by the Law Day Video Contest entries, which were voted on for the People’s Choice Awards.
Law Day has been acknowledged since President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized it in 1958. In 1961, Congress issued a joint resolution, recognizing May 1 as Law Day. Every President since then has issued a proclamation on May 1, celebrating the rule of law.
“Law Day is a great opportunity to interact with the kids, you can get a refreshed feeling and recharge for next year,” said Jason Hessler, MSBA Public Awareness Committee Chair.