Two of the kids appeared to be dozing; a couple others engaged in whispered conversation, but most of the 50-plus students who attended annual Law Day ceremonies on Monday listened with varying degrees of attention to their courthouse hosts.
Law Day is a slightly misleading name for an event that requires weeks of preparation not only by courthouse employees, but also by Fecteau-Leary High School students who every year for the last seven years have painstakingly assembled three-dimensional, table-size murals representing the American institutions upheld by a working judicial system.
Partly a recruiting opportunity, partly a history lesson, Law Day gives students a chance to look past television, news media and Hollywood depictions of the legal process and see and hear for themselves what the American judiciary is all about.
The people who organized Law Day took time out of busy jobs working as judges, clerks, court officers, attorneys and prosecutors — to name just a few occupations — to organize, prepare speeches and schedule their time to participate.
The law sounds like a cut-and-dried subject when judges talk about it. But the realities of law and the courts seem much more confusing:
A football player takes his life in prison and suddenly the question of vacating the legal decision that put him in jail becomes a serious topic of consideration.
Immigrants and the children of immigrants advocate for rights and ask for justice and hovering over the debates and marches is the question of legal citizenships.
Everyone seems to have legal advice to offer on the Internet, even though most of the online advisers have never been in a courtroom or cracked open a law book.
When retired Justice Michael Edgerton started speaking on the 14th Amendment Monday morning, a few students must have stifled yawns or shifted restlessly on the hardwood benches in the Juvenile Court First Session courtroom.
Edgerton’s student audience included teenagers from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and his mini-lecture quickly focused on topics they could wrap their imaginations around.
He talked about a post-Civil War America where slavery was replaced by segregation laws. He noted the end-of-the-19th century Supreme Court decision that upheld separate-but-equal segregation and he talked about the parent who got fed up with having his child walk to school through a rail yard when an all-white school was located seven blocks from home.
Edgerton concluded his history lesson by talking about the dramatic shift in Supreme Court membership that set the stage for segregation’s overthrow. Without driving his point home too hard, Edgerton showed the students how the law, and its tumultuous ride through American history, defines how they live their lives, where they go to school and the types of aspirations they can hold for their future.
The law in America is alive and well thanks to Law Day.