New Jersey Judiciary Law Day 2014
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New Jersey Judiciary Law Day 2014

November 26, 2019

Welcome to today’s Law Day celebration. Since 1958, Law Day has given all of us an opportunity each year to think and learn more about the rule of law the important principle that the law applies equally to all of us. This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the federal Civil Rights Act. Signed into law on July 2, 1964, the Act was a landmark piece of legislation that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, and gender in all spheres of public life, including voting, places of employment, schools, and public places. Although our nation was founded on the rule of law, all Americans were not equal before the law. Before 1964, it was legal to withhold jobs from members of minority groups. It was acceptable to bar them from using restrooms, water fountains, restaurants, and other public areas. Even schools, which in theory were required to end “separate but equal” policies after the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education ten years earlier, remained segregated in parts of the country. The Civil Rights Act helped bring about needed changes in those areas. The law stemmed from the sacrifices and leadership of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Greensboro Four. It was the result of ordinary people joining protests, boycotting segregated businesses, and engaging in other forms of civil disobedience. And it came to pass as a result of a changing mindset among the public, which recognized the hypocrisy of holding our nation out as a democratic model of ideals while sanctioning bigotry that kept so many citizens from fully participating in that democracy. The Civil Rights Act was not approved unanimously. Several senators tried to keep the Senate from voting on the bill by carrying on a filibuster that lasted for weeks. Finally, the senate majority leader managed to gather 71 votes — four more than were required — to pass an amended version of the bill. Those few votes mattered. They changed the course of history. Law Day is an ideal time to think about the Civil Rights Act and what it means to our democracy. It’s also a time to appreciate the importance of voting, which is more than just a civic duty. It’s an opportunity for all of us to participate in our democracy and bring about change. One of the very things the Civil Rights Act prohibited was the unequal application of voter registration requirements, a tactic that had been used in the past to limit access to the polls for African Americans. Today, when we exercise our right to vote, we help choose our leaders and let our voices be heard. In doing so, we can make a difference, because every vote matters. To those of you too young to vote, Law Day is especially important. Now is the time for you to learn about our government, about the issues we face as a nation, and about our system of laws — so that one day you can help make informed choices about where we go next as a society. We salute you, in particular, as we celebrate Law Day, a half century after the Civil Rights Act became law.

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