It’s not uncommon to hear such sentiments as “Happy Birthday – Happy Holidays – or even Happy Friday,” but I’ve got another one for you. Perhaps lesser known, but important none-the-less, today just so happens to be Law Day, so I’d like to wish you all a very “Happy Law Day.”
What is Law Day, you ask? Recognized across the country every May 1, Law Day is a time set aside to foster a deeper appreciation for our legal system. Still not ringing any bells? Don’t feel bad. If you’re not an attorney or a history buff, you may not know that President Dwight Eisenhower first recognized Law Day in 1958, and every year since, the president has issued a proclamation recognizing the importance of the rule of law. It may not be as famous as the presidential “pardoning of the turkey” on Thanksgiving, but to me, it has special significance.
When I was a kid, I had a chair just for me. It was a small, wooden rocking chair, handmade by my grandfather. It’s in that chair that I would rock away, watching my favorite television programs, specifically “Hee Haw” and “Perry Mason.” Let’s just pretend I didn’t say “Hee Haw,” and move on. Or maybe “Hee Haw” was like the yin to the yang of “Perry Mason?” Who knows. At any rate, my parents still talk today about my childhood fascination with Perry Mason. It does seem that the program was a premonition of sorts for my later decision to study and practice law, albeit respectfully on the opposite side of the famous Mr. Mason.
Today, I still enjoy a good legal fiction. Like many, I was hooked on the Netflix docuseries “Making a Murderer,” but as an adult, I am able to contrast television drama with reality. Serving as your Delaware County prosecutor is a dream fulfilled. The thrill of a courtroom victory, to me, is unmatched. To advocate for someone who needs a legal voice, someone who needs me to fight for them, is an honor and a privilege. My journey – from that of a little kid in her granddad’s rocking chair, to serving my community in the important role of prosecutor – leads me to be especially appreciative of Law Day.
And now, when I see my own daughter in that little wooden rocking chair, I wonder what she will grow up to be. As she sits there, rocking her dolls to sleep or watching television herself, I feel so grateful to raise my family in a country where there is a fair and just legal system, a long history of checks and balances for the good of all.
In fact, our country’s rich legal history can be traced back to principles considered and debated by our Founding Fathers, ideals that were ultimately enshrined in our Constitution, the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights. For example, the right of an accused to confront their accuser. Can you imagine a justice system without this right? Wow is all I can say. Fortunately, our Founding Fathers recognized this hundreds of years ago.
Pop quiz: Can you identify in which constitutional amendment this right is written (answer below)? If not, it’s fair to say you’re not alone, and that’s exactly why Law Day is so important. It’s a chance to re-educate ourselves so that we come to understand the crucial role the rule of law plays in our lives.
Here’s another one: How about the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures? To require the government to secure warrants based on probable cause and evidence? To be able to challenge searches and seizures in a court of law? This is another example of a brilliant thought by our Founding Fathers that was enshrined in (can you guess?) the Fourth Amendment.
I realize I can get entirely too wrapped up in thinking about our Founding Fathers, and I also realize I’m probably in the minority, but I couldn’t let Law Day come and go with no mention.
This year, many things are different with suspended programs and cancellations, but usually around Law Day, there are school presentations and even some courtroom field trips. Since we can’t do that this year, I challenge you to reach out to the youngster in your life and remind them of our great legal system.
Share with them what the scales of justice represent. Watch a legal drama like “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “12 Angry Men.” Read about our Constitution. If you need ideas, the website and/or Facebook page for the Ohio Center for Law Related Education is a wonderful resource. And then, when we are once again able to gather, I encourage everyone to take a tour of our Ohio Supreme Court. And when you observe the grandeur and majesty of the courtroom, I hope you truly feel the immense meaning it embodies for all attorneys who have and will ever step foot inside.
My 5-year-old daughter may not yet realize how lucky she is to live in a society governed by a legal system such as ours, but I look forward to teaching her. I hope I’ve ignited that spark in you as well. And now that I’ve shed a little light on the importance of this day for every American, I’d like to renew my sentiment of wishing each and every one of you a Happy Law Day! Lastly, for those who can’t quite get it out of their mind, the answer to the pop quiz is — the Sixth Amendment.
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.