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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 29, 2017

Thoughts on Law Day

By Paul Gandy | Apr 27, 2017

To the editor:

Next Monday is May 1. Every May 1, the United States recognizes Law Day – reminding us to reflect on the role and importance of the rule of law in our society. As a practicing attorney for over 25 years, I am particularly aware of this day, but I believe all who might read this letter should care about it.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower first declared Law Day in 1958. From the time the Iron Curtain fell after World War II, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union battled each other in the Cold War. Many people saw this massive conflict – with the Soviet premier openly threatening the U.S. with nuclear annihilation – as a battle of civilizations, which the United States won.

As the wall was falling, the USSR was collapsing. It then vanished. The USA on the other hand, has survived and flourished. Consider for example the rise of Silicon Valley and the continuing explosion of technological creativity in this country. Part of what distinguished this country from the Soviet Union was our commitment, however flawed in execution, to the rule of law. The Soviet Union, which lacked this commitment, was not sustainable.

Yet, this country has not been, and is not without its challenges. Today our form of government – a representative democracy – seems under increasing strain. Divisions along ideological, economic, and cultural lines overshadow our shared history. Many citizens believe that the U.S. has pivoted in a dangerous direction in response to external threats and internal differences.

Others, are equally convinced America is being made “great again”. A commitment to the rule of law allows our opinions to diverge without as much risk of the disintegration of our form of government.

The rule of law means no one can act above the law. It means openness, transparency, and evenness in making and applying law. It means protection by law of certain basic rights in America–such as equal treatment under law, and other fundamental rights, as set out in our U.S. Constitution, and all of its 27 Amendments. It means, as Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, if you break a law, which you believe to be unjust, and accept the penalty imposed in order to awaken the conscience of the community, you are really “expressing the highest respect for law.” (Consider for example, what I believe to have been the necessary boldness of Women’s Suffrage or the Civil Rights Movement.) It means justice for everyone. Justice for all.

The rule of law is an ideal we strive to achieve, but sometimes fail to live up to. Law Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the progress we have made as a people in creating a just society, and to think deeply about what more we can do to reach that ideal.

 

– Paul Gandy, JD, Fairfield

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