Here are four legal puzzlers:
• An African-American student wants
to attend the same school as white
children. Can she?
• A man is charged with burglary, but
he can’t afford a lawyer. Should the
state give him one for free?
• Two men pass a worthless check and
are convicted of misdemeanors. Can
the state take away their right to vote
because of those convictions?
• Can states outlaw interracial marriage?
The answers are obvious – now. But
that’s only because we have the 14th
Amendment to the United States Constitution and nearly 150 years of Supreme Court rulings interpreting it.
Most Americans have no idea what
the 14th Amendment is or how it affects
their lives. But we do. And our job as
lawyers is to defend individuals’ rights
under the Constitution and to explain
that great document to the public.
That’s the idea behind Law Day. Every
year on May 1, lawyers across the country
engage their communities and rally behind the rule of law. This year, the theme
of Law Day is The 14th Amendment:
Transforming American Democracy –
one of the most-litigated but least-known
of all the constitutional amendments.
For more than a century, the 14th
Amendment has been the legal basis for
many major Supreme Court decisions,
including those that desegregated
OF LAW DAY AND
THE 14TH AMENDMENT
Lawyers, let’s share our passion
for constitutional democracy
By Linda A. Klein
President, American Bar Association
schools (Brown v. Board of Education)
and ensured counsel for criminal defendants (Gideon v. Wainwright).
The first section of the 14th Amend-
ment – the part that’s most often litigat-
ed – states: “All persons born or natu-
ralized in the United States, and subject
to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens
of the United States and of the State
wherein they reside. 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;
nor deny to any person within its juris-
diction the equal protection of the laws.”
“The reason we have the 14th
Amendment,” said former U.S. Solici-
tor General Ted Olson, “is to provide
the courts with the opportunity to
override the will of the people when
the will of the people discriminates
against a segment of our society.”
This year, we’re asking lawyers to join
judges and teachers across the country
to engage students, elected officials and
community leaders in Law Day discus-
sions of the amendment’s significance.
There are many ways to celebrate
Law Day. In Idaho, students are creating
podcasts. In Boston, lawyers are visiting
classrooms. In Texas and North Carolina, students are writing editorials, snapping photos and creating posters.
And in Washington D.C., the Amer-
ican Bar Association will sponsor two
special events. On May 1, a scholarly
panel, led by Jeffrey Rosen, president
of the National Constitution Center,
will debate the 14th Amendment’s role
in transforming American democracy.
The next day, 150 high school students
from around the country will discuss the
ideas of equal protection, due process
and liberty under the 14th Amendment.
I will help lead the discussion.
Law Day dates back to the heart of
the Cold War, nearly 60 years ago. In
1957, ABA President Charles S. Rhyne
watched reports of the Soviet Union’s
annual May Day celebration in Moscow’s Red Square, with its massive displays of military might. He thought that
what made America great was its fidelity
to the rule of law, not military power.
Rhyne asked President Dwight Eisenhower to issue the first Law Day
proclamation, declaring that “
guaranteed fundamental rights of individuals
under the law is the heart and sinew of
our Nation.” It has been a presidential
tradition ever since.
Today, it often seems that we are a
nation divided, but there is one thing
that Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree on: The American rule
of law is the envy of billions around the
So on May 1, let’s celebrate and
spread the word. The U.S. Constitution
is America’s greatest creation. It is
worth defending and teaching, on May 1
and every day.
To learn more about Law Day
events in Washington, visit