A View From the Bench by Commissioner Indu Thomas

Since 1961, May 1st has been celebrated as Law Day, a national day to celebrate the rule of law.  Law Day programs are designed to help people understand how the law keeps us free and how the legal system strives to achieve justice.  As you consider whether you are going to join in the Law Day festivities this year, I thought I would take a moment to discuss this year’s theme.  The American Bar association has chosen “Realizing the Dream:  Equality for All” for 2013.  The theme provides an opportunity for students to explore the civil rights movement in America and promote the ideal of equality under the law.  This topic seemed to me to both thought provoking and timely as the year 2013 also marks the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This theme brings to mind the two individuals, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 16th president of our nation, President Abraham Lincoln.  The stories of their lives and accomplishments have been an inspiration to me throughout my life.  There are of course others, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt and Indira Gandhi to name a few.  This is however a column and not a novel so I shall focus on the first two and the thoughts that came to mind when I saw the theme for Law Day this year.

The movie “Lincoln” came out last year and has been recognized as one of the best movies of 2012.  I dragged my son to the movie insisting that our lives would be incredibly different if it was not for this man and his courage.  My 16 year old son told me with confidence, “Someone will always do the right thing.  If it had not been President Lincoln someone else would have stepped up and taken on the battle.”  By the end of the movie my son too was wondering whether the 13th Amendment would have passed without the leadership and vision of President Abraham Lincoln.

The movie analyzes two of the most important events in the history of the United States — the passage of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War.  I have often wondered what would have happened next if he had not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet at the age of 56.  President Lincoln’s ability to identify the steps that were possible at that time was the reason for the success of the Civil Rights Amendment.  His charisma and his intelligence combined with his unique personal experience and struggles made him the right person for the task.  Even now the last lines of the Gettysburg address echo in my brain “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  This was a battle cry for justice for all.

Rev Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the age of 39, 4 years younger than I am today.  This Baptist minister became a civil rights activist at the age of 26.  He served as the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the age of 28.  In 1963 when he gave his famous and often repeated “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he was 34 years old.  His efforts combating racial inequality led to honors such as a Nobel Peace Prize when he was merely 35 years old.  He too was able to identify the necessary steps and move this nation forward.

In 1991, I wrote a thesis entitled “Justice for All.”  Today, I took a moment to consider whether I have lived up to the definitions and challenges I laid out in my own thesis.  I can say with pride to that idealistic young 20 year old woman, I have lived up to our ideals.  My path has not been exactly what we imagined then, however I have stayed focused on the goal of “justice for all.’  No regrets, no promises, only time will tell.  In the words of the great philosopher and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  Consider participating in a Law Day activity this year and ask yourself whether you have lived up to the ideals of your 20 year old self.

Jill CarterA View From the Bench by Commissioner Indu Thomas