Adrienne B. Koch, NYCLA President Law Day Speech June 1, 2023


Adrienne B. Koch, NYCLA President Law Day Speech June 1, 2023

Picture of Adrienne B. Koch, NYCLA President
Written by: Adrienne B. Koch, NYCLA President
Published On: Jun 07, 2023

Good afternoon.

I’m so pleased to welcome you to NYCLA’s annual Law Day lunch.  And I say annual purposefully here.  The last time we had this event in 2019, we didn’t know that it would be four years before we’d be able to hold it again.  But it’s back, we’re back, and although it’s always great to be able to get together like this I think the hiatus really brought home the point of just how special this event is. 

One of the things that always makes this event special is the participation of so many members of our judiciary.  And this year is no exception.  I’d like to ask all of the judges in the room to please stand so that we can thank you for being here today and express our appreciation for all you do every day. 

Would everyone please join me in a round of applause?

And of course, we’re particularly pleased to have as our special guests Judge Anthony Cannataro, who will be receiving the Capozzoli Gavel award; Justice Saliann Scarpulla, who will present that award; and Justices Lucy Billings, Tandra Dawson, Debra James, Dianne Renwick, Martin Shulman, and Laura Ward – each of whom we honor today for 25 years of distinguished judicial service.

I also want to thank our Supreme Court Committee – and in particular the luncheon co-chairs Alyssa Goldrich, Craig Kesch, and Russell Morris, together with NYCLA’s outstanding staff – for putting this event together.  It takes a lot of work to make it look so easy. 

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of Law Day. 

Over the years, Law Day itself has been a subject of some critical debate.  In some circles it’s been decried as an effort to co-opt a day that had previously been known as May Day or International Workers Day – a day that commemorated the struggles of workers and the gains that had been made through protest. 

I can’t actually know what was in President Eisenhower’s mind when he first proclaimed Law Day 65 years ago.  It’s possible that that was part of it.  But I want to push back on the notion that celebrating the fruits of protest is in some kind of tension with celebrating the rule of law.  Because I don’t think it is. 

After all, this country was founded on protest.  Quite literally. 

And some of our greatest advances have been born of protest – including not only the eight-hour workday and other worker protections that were at issue in the protests originally commemorated by International Workers Day, but also the voting rights and other civil rights that we hold equally dear.  And I’ll add that in many instances it has taken protest to secure even rights that were and are guaranteed by our Constitution.

In a nation that values justice, when we see injustice it is our duty to – as Congressman John Lewis put it – “find a way to get in the way.” 

That is consistent with the rule of law.  And it’s also consistent with this year’s Law Day theme: “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration.”  

As I said in my written message, in a democracy the rule of law truly does depend on all of these things:

  • Civics – understanding our rights and duties as citizens;

  • Civility – seeing one another as worthy co-participants in our shared society; and

  • Collaboration – working together in our nation’s ongoing project to create a “more perfect” union.

These cornerstones – civics, civility, and collaboration – are three in number.  But I’d like to suggest a fourth: courage to dissent when dissent is warranted.

That fourth cornerstone is at least as much a part of our history and foundation as the other three, starting in fact with our nation’s very origins.  And today it operates not in counterpoint to the other three, but in harmony with them.

Those four corners – civics, civility, collaboration, and courage to dissent – together create the framework that helps keep us moving forward.  And with that in mind, I’d like to close by borrowing words from someone many of us view as our favorite and most treasured dissenter, the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

She said: “Fight for the things you care about.  But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” 

I actually think that exhortation elegantly weaves our Law Day theme’s three cornerstones together with the fourth I’m suggesting here.  And really what better goal can we have than the one Justice Ginsberg sets for us with those words?

Thank you all for joining us today, and for your support of NYCLA, of our honorees, and of the spirit of fellowship that is so important to our profession.  Please enjoy your lunch and the rest of the program.

I’m going to turn it back now to our luncheon chairs.