Updated: Jun 10, 2022
U.S. Government and the American Bar Association officially designated May 1st as Law Day in 1961. The purpose of Law Day is to celebrate the “rule of law.” The rule of Law is the principle that all everyone, including organizations, are accountable to the same set of laws. Aristotle posed the question of whether it is better to be ruled by the best rulers or the best laws. He concluded having the best laws is superior to the best rulers for a society because laws are well thought out and apply to most situations. There are many differing views as to how laws should be to ensure a just and orderly society. But the idea is that laws serve more than a functional purpose. Law Day is meant to educate and celebrate the elements of society laws uphold and protect.
Although Law Day is not a national or federally recognized holiday, it is a marked occasion for Bar associations across the country. Many Bar associations and legal professionals take on activities to educate the public about the legal system based on the annual theme selected by the American Bar Association. Some events include hosting speakers. Lawyers and other legal professionals might visit schools or colleges to explain various aspects of the legal system. Even the U.S. President participates by making a special proclamation that emphasizes the importance of legality. Legal professionals, especially lawyers, might visit schools or colleges to explain the legal system.
“The goal of Law Day is to celebrate the role of the law in everyday life and in society. It also aims to educate the public on how the legal profession and system works as a whole.” - LawDistrict Team
The 2022 focus was “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change.” The ABA hoped to emphasize the purpose of the constitution is to set a blueprint for the government and establish mechanisms for change. The founding fathers purposefully drafted the Constitution in general terms and never intended it as a restrictive tool but one capable of evolving with changes in societal ideals. Thus, illustrating how lawmakers have redefined and expanded upon the spirit of the Constitution.
The Constitution is a dynamic document, as it not only outlines a blueprint for government, but also delegates power, articulates rights, and offers mechanisms for change. It is neither perfect, nor exhaustive, as our nation’s history makes clear. Legislation, court rulings, amendments, lawyers, and “we the people” have built upon those original words across generations to attempt to make the “more perfect Union” more real. That effort continues today, as contemporary leaders and everyday citizens raise their voices as loud as ever to fulfill the promise of the Constitution. Defining and refining those words of the Constitution might be our oldest national tradition, and how each of us works—together—toward a more perfect Union. - American Bar Association, Law Day 2022
Landmark Changes to Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Protections
Many fundamental rights are not explicitly established by Constitution. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted certain rights to be within the scope of various Amendments. For instance, the U.S Supreme Court held in Griswold v. Connecticut that right to privacy exists within the "penumbras" of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendments of the Constitution. Below are history making decisions that redefined the fundamental rights under the Constitution.
Right to Custody of Children
Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S 645 (1971): The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Illinois law prohibiting unwed fathers from having legal custody of their children under the presumption that unwed fathers are unfit parents. The Court held that parents have the fundamental right to have custody of their children regardless of marital status under the 9th and 14th Amendments.
Right to Travel
Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999): California law limiting the welfare benefits new state residents could receive based on what they received in the state they lived in before violated the fourteenth (14th) Amendment's Privileges and Immunities Clause. The Court held that citizens have the right to (i) enter and leave another state, (ii) be treated as a welcome visitor, and (iii) be treated equally if they became permanent residents of that state.
Right of Parents to Control Upbringing of Children
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925): The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Oregon law requiring children to attend public school until the age of 16. While parents may be compelled to enter their children into some form of schooling, parents have the right to privately educate their children.
Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000): A state law permitting any third party to receive child visitation against the wishes of a parent if the state determined it was in the best interest of the child violated the Due Process Clause. The Court held that parents have a liberty interest in controlling the care and custody of their children. The Court found that the state's ability to make decisions in a child's best interest, against the wishes of the parent, without finding that parent unfit violated the parent's due process rights. Unless a parent is unfit, it is presumed that parents will act in their children's best interests, and therefore, the state should not interfere and take that role away from them.
Right to Refuse Unwanted Medical Treatment
Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997): The Court upheld a New York statute outlawing assisted suicide but allowing terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatment that would result in their death under the Equal Protection Clause. The Court reasoned that unlike assisted suicide, death occurring after refusing medical treatment results naturally without medical interference or inducing death. See Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) (concluding that a coma patient had the right to refuse medical treatment).
Right to Marriage
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967): Virginia statutory scheme preventing interracial marriage violated Equal Protection and Due Process Clause under the 5th and 14th Amendments.
Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. __ (2015): The Court held that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clause. Importantly, the Court noted, "When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution's central protections and a received legal structure, a claim to liberty must be addressed." (Pp 10-12). The Court provided four (4) principles/traditions supporting that marriage is a fundamental right, one of which is that marriage safeguards children and families; and therefore, the right to marry draws its meaning from related fundamental rights (e.g., childrearing, procreation, etc.); See also Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) (striking down a Texas law that prohibited sexual intercourse by same-sex individuals).
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