|The following is a statement from OSBA President Carol Seubert Marx.
“The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people's hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice”—John AdamsLaw Day was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 to commemorate our American heritage of liberty, justice and equality under the law. This day provides all of us with an opportunity to reflect on these important democratic principles, to celebrate the rule of law, and to re-commit ourselves to upholding our principles of democracy.
More than 200 years ago, our nation’s founders designed a constitutional democracy based upon a system of checks and balances; a three-part governmental system with an executive branch, a legislative branch and a judicial branch. A fundamental part of this great system is the critical third branch of government—the judiciary—which rests upon the principle of access to fair and impartial courts for everyone.
For more than two centuries, this separation of powers has worked as a device to permit us to protect and defend our freedom. Our progress as a society often has been forged by a judiciary free from partisan politics; a judiciary acting on the basis of what is right and just, not on what is popular; and consequently, a judiciary that is able to protect the ordinary citizen. Ours is a legal system that includes the right to have disputes decided by a jury of ordinary citizens.
We must remember the role of the justice system as a defender—a defender of society against those who commit crimes, a defender of the free enterprise system, and as a defender of individual liberties and civil rights. Our American justice system resolves 100 million cases each year—simple, complex, routine, extraordinary. The greatest American institution for peaceably resolving even the most contentious disputes is the American legal system.
Today, in state after state, severe funding cuts are hampering courts’ ability to fulfill their role. As a result of these funding cuts, many courts have been forced into hiring freezes, pay cuts, judicial furloughs, staff layoffs, increased filing fees, reduced hours and facility closures. Many states have experienced delays in their criminal dockets. Because criminal cases implicate constitutional rights and receive priority, delays are often most acute on the civil side, with growing backlogs reported in family cases and commercial and consumer disputes that are important to the everyday lives of many Americans. If these trends continue, courts will lack the resources they need to process cases in a timely and effective manner, resulting in more instances of justice delayed and denied. It is essential that we keep our courts open and accessible. On this Law Day, we ask Ohioans to recommit to adequate court funding to preserve the proper administration of justice.
Lawyers, too, are an important part of our legal system. They tackle tough issues and resolve them through a constitutional and legal system. Lawyers defend the rights of their clients sometimes even in the face of threats to their own personal safety or scorn of others. Lawyers also provide countless hours of pro bono legal representation, and service to the civic, social and religious institutions that help make our communities strong.
It was President William McKinley who said, “The [legal] profession is essential to civilization. It touches every relation in life… . There is no profession where honor and integrity are at a higher premium than in the profession of the law.”
As we celebrate Law Day this year, please join in reflecting upon these important democratic principles. Take time to learn more about our system of justice, about the importance of adequately funding our courts, about the role of lawyers in American society and about the rights and responsibilities that each of us has as citizens of this great nation.