YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Every year, the United States celebrates May 1 as “Law Day.” The designation was started by President Dwight E. Eisenhower in 1958, when his chief legal counsel Charles Rhyne suggested to the president that our country needed a special day to reflect upon the rule of law and how the law affects our lives. At the proclamation of Law Day, Eisenhower stated, “If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.”
While Law Day is not a government holiday and you won’t get the day off from work, many legal associations will hold Law Day programs to focus on aspects of the law that every citizen should understand. They hold luncheons and feature legal speakers to discuss justice and legal liberties. Here in Yorktown, we have a very special way of celebrating this very important day; by educating our very young in the meaning of their Constitution.
Each year, students of the Mohansic School are given a make-believe criminal case and get to participate in the trial of that case in the Yorktown Justice Court before our two judges. They may have to put Goldilocks on the stand and ask her why she broke into the home of the three little pigs. Or, perhaps, they will cross examine the Wicked Witch of the West to determine why she was trying to steal those ruby slippers from Dorothy. There are always objections, a few gavel strikes to quiet the gallery, and, of course, a verdict. And yes, the cutest costumes you can imagine. In the end, the children are given a glimpse into the real world of right and wrong, good and evil, and the workings of the court system. This year's event begins at 9 a.m. Monday, May 1.
The children always want to know why I wear a robe in the courtroom; a tradition that began many years ago. A judge wears a robe as a symbol of authority, yes; but it is more than that. If you travel to other countries, judges usually wear brightly colored and ornate robes; in the United States it is plain black. The reason is simple. The robe reminds the public of the authority of the judge, but the simplicity of the robe reminds the judge that the robe should be worn humbly. My own traditions, such as keeping a copy of the Constitution next to me in court, helps to focus on the limits of the court and the important shared responsibility.
As we look forward to this year’s crop of new Clarence Darrows and their teachers, we should all take just a few moments to reflect on the importance of this day and the fact that too many people elsewhere in the world do not have that option. Perhaps, today would be a great day for all citizens to pick up a copy of that great document and reflect along with the rest of us, on the rule of law. We welcome everyone, to come and see the Mohansic students, teach their parents well.