Happy Law Day

Facts, factoids and a serious message

Stuart Zanville
2017 May

As most of you know, May 1 is Law Day. Try not to get too excited.

For those that don’t know, Law Day is a national day to celebrate our legal system. It was established in 1957 by the American Bar Association.

Of course, nothing is official until Congress acts on it. On April 7, 1961, Congress passed a Joint Resolution, designating May 1 as Law Day, U.S.A. This Public Law has been codified in Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code (USC). The Joint Resolution requests the President to issue a Proclamation each year and provides that Law Day:

is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States … in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; … for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life ... inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A. with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.

Without being cynical or overtly political, I wonder if our current Congress could get together to pass such a joint resolution today? Sorry, but the short answer is “no way.”Regardless, let me be the first to wish you a “Happy Law Day.”

Since Advocate magazine (and this column) are read by lawyers, my “Happy Law Day” message is going to focus on lawyers, since you are the reason Law Day exists at all.

Let me begin with some historic facts and factoids for your information, education and entertainment.

  • Four of the seven Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution were lawyers (John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson) and all four were also trial lawyers.
  • A fifth Founding Father, James Madison, studied law but didn’t become a practicing lawyer. He made up for it by writing the 7th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing trial by jury in civil cases.
  • 25 of the 56 men who signed the U.S. Constitution were lawyers.
  • 32 of the 55 framers of the U.S. Constitution were lawyers.
  • Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were trial lawyers and practiced together before they became political enemies. Instead of resolving their differences in court, they chose a more violent alternative dispute resolution procedure – a duel. Hamilton lost the duel and his life at age 47.
  • Seven of the first 10 U.S. Presidents were lawyers.
  • 25 of the 44 U.S. Presidents were lawyers before they were Presidents.

So much for history. Now let’s turn to current events and the current administration. OK, here’s where I get cynical and overtly political.

  • Donald Trump’s favorite President, Andrew Jackson, was a lawyer.
  • My favorite President, Abraham Lincoln, was a lawyer.
  • 168 members of the current House of Representatives are lawyers.
  • Fifty current U.S. Senators are lawyers.
  • Six lawyers were in George H.W. Bush’s cabinet.
  • Ten of Bill Clinton’s cabinet secretaries had law degrees.
  • The early cabinet of George W. Bush had seven law school graduates.
  • By the end of his last term, Barack Obama’s cabinet included 11 lawyers.

And here is the most important fact so far, and the reason for this column. I will put it in the form of a quiz:

Among the 15 cabinet secretaries appointed to date by President Donald Trump, how many are lawyers?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 4
  4. 8

The correct answer is A (one). And that one is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a cabinet secretary who is obligated to be a lawyer.

Shocking, isn’t it? So, what does it mean that President Trump’s cabinet doesn’t include lawyers?

It’s important because lawyers stand up for the rule of law and the role of institutions in our country. It’s important because lawyers believe we live within a judicial system where laws are greater than individuals.

Joe Palazzolo wrote in the Wall Street Journal on March 3 that “To some of Trump’s supporters, the absence of lawyers in his cabinet is strong evidence of the president’s pledge to upset the status quo. Others see it is a break with a worthy tradition that dates back to the nation’s founding.”

In the same article, Craig Green, a law professor at Temple University said that “Legal training orients people toward tradition and institutions, directing them to think about change in an incremental way and to explain and justify the way things are.”

It is ironic that even though they are not lawyers, upon taking office the current cabinet secretaries recited an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Sound familiar? Of course, it does, since when you became an attorney you recited a similar oath to “support the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.”

Many judges and attorneys are concerned that this administration does not respect legal institutions and is intent on dismantling them.

Lawyers must make their voices heard to safeguard the Constitution, whether in the Halls of Government or the hallways of the Courthouse.

On this Law Day, we must all take a moment to remember that we are a country governed by the rule of law spelled out in a Constitution that was written for the most part by lawyers.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail: stuart@caala.org.

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