More than a half-century ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established May 1, 1958, as the first-ever Law Day. A joint resolution of Congress later confirmed May 1 as the official Law Day, and since then it has been celebrated on that date each year by the American Bar Association, state and local bar associations, and lawyers across the country.
Law Day is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the rule of law and the American justice system. The theme of this year’s Law Day is “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.” As president of the McLean County Bar Association, I am honored to give a local voice to this year’s Law Day theme.
We are fortunate to live in a country that is governed by the rule of law, a system which has as its primary goal fairness and justice for all of its citizens. The alternatives to our current system are not very appealing.
The legal system in the United States stands in great contrast to nations that operate to control their citizens through force and which provide no outlet for their citizens to seek justice for whatever wrongs they may have endured. Nations with lawlessness similarly provide no means for redress. While not perfect, the American court system helps ensure that the ideals of justice and freedom remain strong.
As with many other governmental agencies, courts across this country are not immune to budget cuts and budget shortfalls. According to the National Center for State Courts, more than 40 states cut funding for their judiciaries in 2010 and 2011, and state funding for Illinois courts has been reduced for 2012.
The decrease in funding for our judicial system means less access to our courts for those who need it. In some states, courts have had to reduce staffing and cut back on hours of operation, all while the number of filed cases continues to grow.
In this the Land of Lincoln, the words of President Abraham Lincoln are especially profound on this issue. During his 1861 State of the Union address, Lincoln said, “It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same, between private individuals.”
In McLean County, we are fortunate to have a well-run court system that continuously looks for ways to be more efficient, all while implementing innovative programs to reduce criminal recidivism and provide alternative options for dispute resolution. The most recent example of this is the Residential Foreclosure Mediation Program, which got under way earlier this year.
This year’s Law Day theme reminds us of the value of our tax dollars to help ensure our legal system is accessible and can move forward as society and technology advance. While there may be opportunities to reduce waste in the nation’s court systems and to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, reductions in courthouse funding will have real consequences to parties seeking help from the courts. Courts are often the last line of defense to assist with contentious custody cases, requests for protection from imminent threats and the protection of the fundamental liberties that we all enjoy. Ensuring funding for and the protection of our court systems ensures the availability of these resources for each of us should the need arise.
Eisenhower, who first gave national recognition to Law Day, said, “though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”
Please join the attorney members of the McLean County Bar Association in celebrating Law Day on May 1 and honoring the availability of our court system for all citizens seeking justice and fairness.
In this land of “liberty and justice for all,” let us remain vigilant to the concept that liberty for all should be protected as equally as the access to justice for all.
Attorney Nannette Castañeda Fosen is president of the McLean County Bar Association.