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Law Day 2008 celebrates "The Rule of Law"

Madison, Wisconsin - April 30, 2008

A message from Shirley S. Abrahamson
Chief Justice, Wisconsin Supreme Court

We join the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Wisconsin in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Law Day on May 1.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the first Law Day a “national day of dedication to the principle of government under law.”

This year’s theme is particularly well-suited to President Eisenhower’s goal: “The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity.”

To mark the occasion in Wisconsin, volunteer attorneys organized by the State Bar will visit classrooms to present information on the rule of law.

The rule of law means that ours is a government of laws. As Theodore Roosevelt said in 1903, “Ours is a government of liberty by, through and under law. No man is above it, and no man is below it." The rule of law protects us from government abuse of power.

United State Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote that the rule of law is the basis of a free society: “There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, everyman can. That means first chaos, then tyranny. Legal process is an essential part of the democratic process.”

In 1776, Thomas Paine offered this perspective in Common Sense: “But where some say, is the king of America?... In America the Law is King. For as in Absolute governments, the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

Of course, each branch of government plays a key role in creating, executing and sustaining rule of law. The rule of law also helps hold the branches of government accountable to each other and to the people.

The judiciary’s role in the rule of law, in short, is to guarantee that justice will be executed according to the law and not according to any individuals’ feelings or personal agenda and not according to pressures from the legislative or executive branches or special interests.

In order to perform its role properly, the judiciary must remain strong, fair, neutral, impartial and non-partisan. That kind of judiciary is the basis of our judicial system. The people of this state deserve no less.

The preamble to the Code of Judicial Conduct contained in Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules, first approved in 1967, perhaps best conveys the critical link between an independent judiciary and the rule of law:

“Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us. The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law....The judge is an arbiter of facts and law for the resolution of disputes and a highly visible symbol of government under the rule of law.”

Please, join me in celebrating the rule of law on May 1 and on every day.

For more information visit:  http://www.abanet.org/publiced/lawday/2008/home.shtml

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