Branches, Balanced Powers
Law Day at the Capitol
When I entered the State Capitol a couple weeks ago, there were people roaming everywhere. The Legislature was in its last few weeks of session; lobbyists and sports enthusiasts were outside every hearing room; and school buses loading and unloading middle school students filled the parking area in front of the Capitol building. I was there to celebrate Law Day with 5th and 7th graders from the Capitol Hill Magnet School in St. Paul.
In 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 as Law Day. It is a special day of celebration set aside to recognize and strengthen our heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under the law. Eisenhower’s Presidential Proclamation pointed out the importance of recognizing those principles:
WHEREAS it is fitting that the people of this Nation should remember with pride and vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice and equality under law which our forefathers bequeathed to us; and
WHEREAS it is our moral and civic obligation as free men and as Americans to preserve and strengthen that great heritage; and
WHEREAS the principle of guaranteed fundamental rights of individuals under the law is the heart and sinew of our Nation, and distinguishes our governmental system from the type of government that rules by might alone; and
WHEREAS our government has served as an inspiration and a beacon light for oppressed peoples of the World seeking freedom, justice and equality of the individual under law; É .[emphasis added]
Since that time, Law Day has been celebrated annually and the American Bar Association designates the theme. This year’s theme, "Separate Branches, Balanced Powers," could not be timelier. When there are serious threats to the independence of the judiciary, both within the state of Minnesota and at the federal level, and when even members of Congress complain of violations of the separation of powers by the Justice Department in the FBI’s search of a Representative’s Washington, DC, office, there is no better time for dialogue about the need to preserve the balance of powers contemplated by the Founders.
The balance of powers could be a horribly dry topic for those in middle school but may be one of the most important to their way of life. And, I must say, I was impressed by the student’s ability to express their understanding through their artwork.
The MSBA challenged the students of Capitol Hill Magnet School to a poster contest depicting the Law Day theme and the students clearly got it. Their artistic expressions of the separation of powers were anything but dry. The posters were judged by a member from each branch of our state government. Members of each of the three branches gathered with the students in the Rotunda to talk about their roles in Minnesota’s government. The students enjoyed it almost as much as I did. Their posters were on display at the Capitol for the week of Law Day.
Thanks are due to many for their help with the Law Day events: Justice Lorie Gildea, Rep. Joe Atkins, and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren helped judge the students’ posters; Justice Gildea, Sen. Don Betzold, and Chuck Noerenberg from Gov. Pawlenty’s office took time out to speak with the students about their roles in government; Judge Harriet Lansing of the Court of Appeals keynoted the event; and MSBA Council member Lisa Brabbit was tireless in her efforts as organizer.
Continuity & Change
It is with some relief that I acknowledge this is my last column as president of your association. It has been a bar year full of opportunities for me to learn and to speak out on issues of concern to the legal profession that affect the separation of powers and the quality of our justice system. The prospect of partisan judicial elections, well-funded by political parties and special interest groups, leads many to be concerned about the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the courts, the impartiality of judges, and the erosion of the public’s trust in their courts. It’s an issue we will be discussing for more than this year, and probably beyond next year. But I leave office knowing we are in the very capable hands of Patrick Kelly and the leaders who will come after him.
This has been a wonderful year to be president of the MSBA. Unplanned events like Hurricane Katrina and the 8th Circuit’s decision in White (affecting rules governing judicial elections) have made for a busy term on top of the other initiatives I had planned to pursue this year. I have enjoyed associating with you and the many MSBA members from all corners of the state. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. It has been an honor, very rewarding, enormously fun, and most memorable.
SUSAN M. HOLDEN is president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. A partner and member of the board of directors of the Minneapolis personal injury firm of Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey, Ltd., she is certified as a civil trial specialist by the MSBA.