Law Day Focuses on Upholding the Rule of Law
As the legal community celebrated Law Day, New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson said that our courts provide a “check and balance” on the fountain of misinformation and hostility polluting our political environment, and that the courts also provide a haven where truth and civility still matter.
In particular, Karson pointed to the legal challenges after the 2020 presidential election. In 61 cases nationwide, judges – many of them Trump appointees – examined the evidentiary record presented to them and failed to discern any evidence of election fraud. These cases were then dismissed one after the other.
“This serves as a reminder of why an independent and diverse judiciary is critical to maintaining the rule of law – a judiciary that issues rulings based upon the proven facts and the law, not political pressure,” said Karson.
Karson’s remarks were made during the annual Court of Appeals’ Law Day ceremony on Monday, May 3. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and New York State Attorney General Letitia James were the virtual Law Day co-hosts, while Karson served as the special guest speaker.
This year’s Law Day theme, “Advancing the Rule of Law Now,” offered a unique opportunity to reflect on the vital role of the courts and the legal profession in maintaining access to justice, protecting fundamental rights and upholding the rule of law during times of crisis, said DiFiore.
“Maintaining an accessible and functioning court system during the pandemic was essential in assuring the public that, even during a declared national public health emergency, our government was working, working to protect our rights; to preserve stability; and to uphold the rule of law, which is the foundation for a just and orderly society,” said DiFiore.
DiFiore described the transition to a virtual court just a few short weeks after the pandemic began as “a remarkable achievement, illustrating our collective devotion to the rule of law and our commitment to fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities.”
During James’ remarks, she addressed efforts to restrict voting rights.
“So, when states like Georgia, most recently, pass laws not to protect people, but to suppress people and suffocate the right to vote instead of letting it breathe freely, we must not stay silent,” said James. “The law is not static. The law does not sit still. It evolves to address the needs of the people it is supposed to protect. Those of us who act as protectors of the law have a responsibility to speak up and challenge these provisions, shoulder to shoulder, in a court of law.”
Attacks on the Profession
Karson said Law Day provided an opportunity for lawyers to rededicate themselves to the rule of law by “fighting back against attacks on our learned profession.”
“In the United States, everybody is entitled to legal representation,” said Karson. “Every time that a lawyer is threatened, harassed, or intimidated because of who he or she represents, that right to counsel is imperiled.”
Karson said an antidote to the misinformation causing Americans to lose faith in the very institutions that uphold our rule of law is robust public civics education “that instills the knowledge and values of our democratic republic to guard against the disrespect and wanton violence such as we witnessed on Jan. 6th.
“Students, as well as educators, and even lawyers and judges, must all become educated to apply critical thinking to what they hear and see, especially on social media,” said Karson. “They must be taught media literacy, to learn to discern fact from fiction. They must learn to debate with civility, not violence.”
Karson said NYSBA pledged to work with the state court system “to promote these education ideals in our state, and we urge our lawmakers to provide the resources necessary to help our young people become citizens who actively participate in government and who see the value in discerning the truth and respecting the rule of law.”
In honor of Law Day this year, and in conjunction with NYSBA’s Committee on Law, Youth and Citizenship, in order to address the theme Advancing the Rule of Law, we asked a few students in New York what that means to them.