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Judge Robin Pavia’s Remarks
Stamford Judicial District's
Law Day Ceremony
May 1, 2008


Good morning, Judge Kavanewsky, judges of the Superior Court, members of the bar, members of the community, and, of course, students, teachers and parents.

I am privileged to celebrate Law Day with you. I am particularly excited today in light of how many wonderful responses there were by students throughout the area. In fact, this is the largest Law Day event we have ever had here in Stamford. You should all feel very proud of your work.

On this, our 50th anniversary of Law Day, our national theme is “The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity.”

The rule of law ensures that all people are equal under the law and that no one should be denied its protection. Why is this so important? Because it means that no individual, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, race, or economic or social status stands above the law. Whether president or laborer, each person is answerable to, and protected by, the law equally.

I know that some of you are thinking that Law Day is really for adults or for lawyers. But this is not true. Each one of you must apply the “rule of law” to your own lives every day. Perhaps without even realizing it, you have come to expect that laws will be there to protect you.

In many ways, your school represents a community. This community is governed by rules enforcing certain behaviors which act similarly to the rules of law in our larger society. For example, you have to be at school at a certain time, you are expected to dress and act a certain way in class.

You know these rules or laws of your school and you also expect that your fellow students will follow them. Some you may like, others you may not. But what these rules combine to do is provide a definitive set of standards by which both students and teachers must conduct themselves. Teachers can not apply these rules to some students and ignore others. The principal, who acts similar to the Judicial Branch in enforcing these rules, can’t arbitrarily apply them. He or she must enforce these rules fairly and impartially with respect to you as students.

Because of the rule of law, you have a safe and orderly environment in which to learn. Imagine if there were no school rules. As my 7-year-old put it, everyone would go crazy in class. The rule of law has the same effect in our larger society as it does in your school − it forms the basis for our civilized society and democratic form of government.

In 1961, President Kennedy codified Law Day, and in so doing, proclaimed that “law is the strongest link between man and freedom, and in strengthening the rule of law we strengthen freedom and justice in our own country and contribute by example to the goal of justice under law for all mankind.” We have students in the audience today who, like President Kennedy, recognize the importance of the rule of law. Christine Suchy noted in her essay that “the rule of law is the guide by which we must as a civilized society act, interact and co-exist as members of the human race.”

Rosemary Odonnell wrote that “the United States of America means nothing but equality, opportunity and hope.”

And Joseph Nieves noted that “people of every race and gender have the same opportunities and rights under the United States government.”

But this was not always so clear. For example, during Abraham Lincoln’s life, the pressing legal issue was one of equality between the races. Against this backdrop, Lincoln defended the principle that “all men are created equal”. In one of his great debates, while referring to the Declaration of Independence, he challenged “if that declaration is not the truth, let us get the statute book in which we find it and tear it out”. And as shock rippled through the audience, Abraham Lincoln looked to all and said simply “well let us stick to it then, and let us stand firmly by it.” Lincoln lost that election, but he would not compromise his conviction that the law must not be swayed by passions of the moment. For if we are to compromise the law in one instance and to apply it in others what value does it truly hold?

Our founding fathers fought to create “a government of laws, not of men,” where no single person or political group is of greater strength than the law itself. This concept stands as the legacy upon which our country was built, yet it has been profoundly tested throughout our history. The courts have, and will continue to be, the arena for resolution of social, political and economic issues directly effecting our communities and the way in which we all live together as citizens.

Today, judges are asked daily to apply the rule of law. They must apply the laws to the facts of each case. They must do this fairly and equally in each instance without allowing sympathy, or personal likes or dislikes of the parties involved, or the outcome of the case to effect their judgment. Often we take this for granted, but sometimes there are cases which generate enormous public opinion as to what the result should be. However, remember this: it is against the force of public opinion that the concept of the rule of law is fully tested.

If we look back into history we see that some of the most significant legal decisions were riddled with controversy. Take, for example, issues such as segregation in schools, rights of an accused person, and freedom of speech, to name just a few. All were decided against a tide of vast public criticism. But popularity has no basis in legal analysis. This stands true even in the face of great condemnation.

The rule of law will continue to thrive only in an atmosphere of respect between those who enact the laws − the legislative branch − and those who implement them − the Judicial Branch.

So, how does this all effect you? You represent the next generation of people who will be entrusted with safeguarding the rule of law. This is no small task. It means the preservation of the rules and principles which allow each person to look upon the law for protection and to know that they will not be denied this security. It means that all people must be afforded the opportunity to assert their interests without fear of retaliation. And it means supporting those who apply the law so they may be allowed to uphold it without fear of reprisal. In doing this, you will preserve the very sanctity of the United States Constitution, which offers to all persons the right of equality under the rule of law.


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