Equal Justice Under Law
 
Inscribed on the façade of the United States Supreme Court are the words "Equal Justice Under Law." The origin of the phrase is in the 1891 decision of Chief Justice Fuller in Caldwell v. Texas,1 "… no State can deprive particular persons or classes of persons of equal and impartial justice under the law." Fuller was influenced by the famous funeral oration of Pericles,2 delivered after the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Pericles declared that "the law secures equal justice."

The guarantee of equal justice enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments has its source in the Magna Carta:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

New York enacted a Bill of Rights in 1787 that included a guarantee of due process. The following year, delegates from New York proposed a due process clause for the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment was ratified as a part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. The guarantee of due process, and the right of equal protection were applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868.
 
Remembering Linda Brown

Four score and two years later, Linda Brown was seven years old. She lived in an integrated neighborhood. Black, white and Indian children played together, but their schools were segregated. Linda's "colored" school was adequate, but she had to walk through a rail yard and across a busy street to catch her bus for the two mile ride to school. She was frightened. In the winter, she was cold. Tears froze on her face.

Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund were looking for test cases to challenge the separate but equal doctrine announced in Plessy v. Ferguson.3 Linda's father took her to enroll in the nearby, all white school, ironically named for Senator Charles Sumner, the radical abolitionist (it had originally been a school for African Americans). Of course, Linda was not permitted to enroll in the Sumner School, and her father became the first named plaintiff in the companion cases decided by the United States Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.4

Linda Brown passed away in March at the age of 75. Let us take a moment to remember her, and the other courageous men and women who risked their lives, and the safety of their families to realize the promise of equal justice under law. Let us contemplate how far we have come, and how much farther we must go to fully realize that promise.
 
For a thrilling and fascinating history of the incipient civil rights movement, the litigation that percolated in the trial and intermediate appellate courts and coalesced in the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board, and the remarkable internal politics, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, that produced the Court's unanimous landmark decision, I recommend Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality, by Richard Kluger, first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1977. I read Simple Justice in its original version. The book was later revised and expanded in 2011.

In 1961, the still segregated, state-funded University of Mississippi refused to enroll James Meredith. Represented by future United States District Judge Constance Baker Motley then of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Meredith brought an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that would ultimately desegregate higher education in the state.

In 1961, the still segregated, state-funded University of Mississippi refused to enroll James Meredith. Represented by future United States District Judge Constance Baker Motley then of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Meredith brought an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that would ultimately desegregate higher education in the state.

Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, under the leadership of Family Court Judge Linda Mejias and District Court Judge Maxine Broderick, recently staged a reenactment of the case that Meredith described as "the last battle of the Civil War." Thank you to the Committee members for an innovative and thought provoking program.
 
Restoring Public Confidence

The Law is the true embodiment
Of everything that's excellent.
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my Lords, embody the Law.
— Gilbert and Sullivan,
Iolanthe 1882

The wry wit of W.S. Gilbert and the melodic genius of Arthur Sullivan combined to humorously skewer Victorian era British pretensions including, notably, the inflated egos of self-important judges and self-interested lawyers.

Several years ago, while attending a State Bar Association conference in Washington, D.C., I was admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court. The admission ceremony was full of pomp and dignity, befitting the prestige and importance of the Court. After appearing in the highest court in the land, I returned home that evening to preside in the lowest, my local village court, where I serve as Associate Justice.

I open each session of court by stating, among other things, that:

Everyone in this courtroom is entitled to be treated with respect. You showed respect for me by standing when I entered the room. The best way that I can show respect for you is by pronouncing your name correctly. If I mispronounce your name, please let me know. I don't mind being corrected. I want to get it right.

This simple acknowledgement of the personal dignity of the mostly pro se litigants appearing before the court never fails to produce smiles and put the audience at ease.

Socrates said that there are four things that a judge must do, listen patiently, speak wisely, deliberate soberly, and decide impartially. To that ancient but still relevant list, I would add one more. A judge should promote civic education and, in so doing, encourage public confidence in our legal system.

As lawyers and judges, we are uniquely able to advance the cause of civic education. Every case handled by a lawyer, and every court session presided over by a judge, is a teaching opportunity. Our Community Relations and Public Education Committee provides speakers to schools, libraries and community organizations; conducts the annual high school mock trial competition and promotes Law Day. In this way, we advance our mission to "inspire among all citizens respect for the law and the governing principles of our democracy, by personal and professional example and by public education."
 
Thank You

My term will end on May 31, and my friend and colleague, Elena Karabatos will be installed as President. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve. I am grateful to the Association's officers and directors, committee chairs and volunteers, who so generously contributed their time and effort to accomplish all of the great work that we have done together, and that we will continue to do under Elena's leadership. I am particularly grateful to the staff, for their encouragement, advice and support, each and every day. Thank you all.

1. 137 U.S. 692 (1891).
2. Pericles' great funeral oration was also a source of inspiration for Lincoln at Gettysburg.
3. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
4. 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

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