Law Day is an annual observance noted in the legal community for more than 60 years. These resources celebrate the law and bring to life the role of students, the courts, and the Constitution in times of change.
Law Day, celebrated on May 1 and throughout the month of May, has been a visible part of American legal culture since President Dwight D. Eisenhower established it in 1958 to celebrate the rule of law in a free society. Eisenhower, a former five-star Army general during World War II, saw first-hand what happens when the rule of law breaks down. As the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, he directed multi-lateral military operations on land, sea, and air in Europe.
2023 Law Day: Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions
Civility in the law and in life is the focus of the Judiciary’s 2023 Law Day resources for teachers, judges, and the legal community. Courtroom and classroom activities that give students real-life experience with civil discourse and solid decision-making skills are at the heart of the Judiciary’s national initiative Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions.
The court program, which is active in almost every Circuit across the country, is a natural tie-in with the American Bar Association’s 2023 Law Day theme, “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration.”
During the federal courts’ civil discourse events, students participate in jury deliberations on teen-relevant issues in federal courtrooms, where judges preside and attorney volunteers coach students through a realistic hearing. Students practice the civil discourse skills they observe and learn from the judge and attorneys. They also gain awareness of situations they may face as teens that can have lasting and legal consequences.
A modification of the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions program is The Constitution, the Courts, and Candid Conversations. It is a highly interactive Q/A session with a judge and volunteer attorneys that creates the opportunity for students to prepare and ask meaningful questions about issues, observations, and concerns about the courts.
The judge and attorneys create a safe and welcoming environment for students to ask tough questions and to break through stereotypes. The program can be 50 minutes or 90 minutes in courtrooms, classrooms, or community settings. It is effective in-person and in the virtual environment.
Timeless Ways to Observe of Law Day
Regardless of the Law Day theme every year, there are timeless ways to observe the day and put the spotlight on students. Young people have always been on the front lines of social change in America. Find activities that superimpose fictional, teen-relevant scenarios on landmark cases that students have brought to the Supreme Court of the United States.
However, high school and middle school students are not the only young people who have come to the courts with their legal issues. Even grade school students – like Sylvia Mendez and Linda Brown – have made their mark on history by working through the federal courts.
Both students were represented by Thurgood Marshall who, at the time, was an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1947, he won victory for Mendez in federal court in California. In 1954, he succeeded for Brown at the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. where he later served as an associate justice.
While Brown v. Board of Education is a widely known landmark Supreme Court case, few make a connection between it and Mendez v. Westminster. The legal history of these two cases comes together in a personal way in two readers theater reenactments – one about Sylvia Mendez and one about Linda Brown. They are ready to read and perform immediately in classrooms, courtrooms, and communities.
Resources on Student Voice in Social Change and the Courts
Readers Theater Activities
What is readers theater? It is a dramatic reading of a prepared script as if it were a stage play, however, there are no costumes, props, or actions. Instead, volunteers use expressive voices and gestures to add interest and meaning to the story line. Participants hold their own copy of the script and read their respective parts so that everyone in the audience can hear. They do not memorize their lines. The emphasis is on comprehension and student-centered learning.