With the global pandemic placing an unprecedented strain on the institutions that have kept America free for over two centuries, it seemed fitting that this year’s Law Day theme was “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.”
In order to maintain social distancing due to the novel coronavirus, New York’s Law Day event May 1 was held virtually at the New York Court of Appeals with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, NYSBA President Hank Greenberg and state Attorney General Letitia James all delivering pre-recorded speeches.
“While we are disappointed by the physical distance between us, we are delighted and proud to continue our annual tradition,” said DiFiore.
Each of the speakers reflected on pioneering suffragettes, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, whose movement for equality and justice, began in New York with the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. This ultimately led to the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
From there, the speakers all opined that the public health crisis underscores that our right to vote is even more vitally important.
“Our upcoming elections will be critical to the nation’s destiny,” said DiFiore. “We will be called upon to elect competent national and local leaders who will be charged with guiding our recovery and implementing the safe, smart and effective policies necessary to restart our stalled economy and prevent future outbreaks.”
Greenberg said the greatest immediate threat to our right to vote is the pandemic itself, as voting laws and systems were not designed to conduct elections in the midst of public health crises.
“Voters must not have to choose between disease or democracy, between risking their health or exercising a civic duty,” Greenberg said. “Our state Legislature, after several members tested positive for COVID-19, changed its own rules to allow for remote voting. So, too, lawmakers can and should take steps to ensure that all of us can vote safely and securely this November.”
State Attorney General Letitia James said the stakes of the 2020 election are higher than they have been in half a century due to threats of voter suppression and the need for voter protection.
“It is an American tragedy that 100 years after the passage of the 19th amendment, 56 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 55 years after Lyndon Johnson signed the voting rights act into law, we face renewed attempts to deny the basic American right to vote, especially in communities of color,” said James. “That is why we must prepare for the 2020 election with the largest education, mobilization and voter protection campaign in modern history.”
Greenberg concluded his remarks by stating that New York’s response to the crisis has proven “we are strong, innovative and determined in the face of adversity.”
“As we struggle with fear and uncertainty, this much is clear: giving up on democracy is not an option,” concluded Greenberg. “We will meet this challenge.”
The Law Day ceremony also recognized the efforts of the court system’s judges, clerks, court officers, IT staff and managers, who almost overnight, implemented New York’s virtual court system.
As part of the virtual Law Day ceremony, state Court Officer Sgt. Jessica Hernandez from the Bronx Supreme Court’s Criminal Term was pre-recorded singing the national anthem in front the New York County Supreme Courthouse at 60 Centre St. in lower Manhattan. The event kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance led by New York City Criminal Court Senior Court Clerk Regan Williams.