May 1, 2017 is “May Day,” but did you know that there is another reason to recognize the day? The first of May is also “Law Day” in the United States.

What is Law Day?

60 years ago, in 1957, the then-President of the American Bar Association  (ABA) had the idea to honor the legal system for one day each year. In 1958, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation to establish National Law Day. We have been celebrating National Law Day on May 1 every year since 1961.

While National Law Day is not a government holiday, it is still a day that is celebrated around the country by some local bar associations. Each year, the ABA designates a specific theme for National Law Day. In 2017, the theme is The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy.

Why Recognize the 14th Amendment?

The 14th amendment to our constitution, ratified in 1868, advanced U.S. citizens’ rights in important ways, through the Citizenship, Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. It also extended the Bill of Rights and became the foundation for civil rights legislation.

Along with the 13th and 15th Amendments, the 14th Amendment is known as a “reconstruction amendment.” At more than 200 words, the 14th Amendment includes the following important provisions:

  • Citizenship – The first section guarantees U.S. citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. or naturalized in the U.S., and provides that citizens are both citizens of the U.S. and of their state of residency.
  • Due Process – The 14th Amendment provides for due process in courts of law, with language you have likely heard before: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”
  • Equal Protection – In addition to requiring due process of law, the 14th Amendment also says that states may not make or enforce laws denying any person in its jurisdiction of the equal protection of the laws.
  • Enforcement – The 14th Amendment also provides that Congress can create “appropriate legislation” to enforce the amendment. Giving Congress this right actually made the 14th Amendment more powerful, ensuring that laws passed under it would be national in scope. Congress can also use the 14th Amendment as the basis for new legislation.

The 14th Amendment has been cited in U.S. courts, and argued about in court cases, more than any of the other constitutional amendments. It’s easy to understand why this might be the case when you consider that the guarantees provided in the 14th Amendment have real, material impacts on the everyday lives of U.S. citizens across the country.

Civil Rights Legislation in the United States Over the Years

On the heels of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1966 established that every citizen “of every race and color” had the same rights to do things like enter into contracts, buy and sell property and sue somebody in a court of law.

Between 1957 and 1990, six more landmark pieces of civil rights legislation were passed making it illegal to deny people rights and outlawing discrimination on the basis of their color, race, religion, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

The Equality Act, introduced to Congress in 2015, would further enforce the 14th Amendment by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

This year’s National Law Day celebrations will take a deeper look at civil rights legislation and notable court cases that have helped shape the legal framework of our society.

Celebrating National Law Day in Tallahassee

National Law Day 2017 will be celebrated locally on Saturday,May 8, 2017 (one week after the day is actually observed on the calendar), at the Turnbull Conference Center in Tallahassee. Sponsored in party by Legal Services of North Florida, Legal Aid Foundation and Florida State University College of Law, the 2 1/2 hour event will feature a keynote speech by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP online.

Honoring our Legal System

Whether or not you choose to take part in a celebration to recognize National Law Day this year, it is a time-honored tradition that helps remind us of the deep and storied history of the legal framework and system in the United States.

To learn more, contact the experienced legal professionals at France Law Firm in Tallahassee today, by completing our easy online contact form, or by calling 850.224.1040.