American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters
Keynote Speaker Honorable Jennifer Walker Elrod
by Meghan Hausler
As Abraham Lincoln eloquently stated, one of America’s most venerated ideals is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In the spirit of these words, and in honor of the upcoming 50th anniversaries of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this year’s ABA Law Day theme is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.” As in years past, the DBA will celebrate Law Day with a luncheon featuring a keynote speaker from the judiciary.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the first Law Day in 1958 and stated, “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.” Since President Eisenhower’s proclamation, May 1st has been marked a day of national recognition of our country’s heritage of liberty, justice and equality under the law.
President Lyndon B. Johnson stressed the importance of voting rights—the theme of this year’s Law Day—when he stated, “In our system, the first right and most vital of all our rights is the right to vote. . . . It is from the exercise of this right that the guarantee of all our other rights flows. Unless the right to vote be secure and undenied, all other rights are insecure and subject to denial for all our citizens.” The right to vote is the foundation of government by the people, and although the struggle to establish and protect every citizen’s right to vote began decades ago, there is still work to be done to ensure that all Americans have the right to participate in our democracy.
Even in today’s modern democracy, citizens frequently face avoidable barriers to voting participation. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, for example, found that voters frequently stand in long lines caused by broken voting machines, confusing ballots and untrained or undertrained poll workers. This Law Day let us reflect upon what each of us can contribute to minimize these obstacles and promote the voting rights of ourselves and our fellow Americans.
The Dallas Bar Association will continue its tradition of celebrating Law Day with a luncheon honoring the judiciary, featuring keynote speaker theHonorable Jennifer Walker Elrod, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Judge Elrod is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Baylor University. She also graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. After law school, she clerked for the Honorable Sim Lake of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. She then worked at Baker Botts, focusing on civil litigation, antitrust and employment matters. She moved behind the bench in 2002, when she was appointed, then twice elected, Judge of the 190th District Court of Harris County, Texas. While serving in that position, she presided over more than 200 jury and bench trials. Judge Elrod was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2007 when Judge Patrick Higginbotham assumed senior status. Judge Elrod has received numerous awards for her contributions to the Bar and to the community. She received the Judge Thomas Gibbs Gee award for her pro bono work and has twice received the President’s Award from the Houston Bar Association. In 2004, the Houston Young Lawyers Association (HYLA) named her the Woodrow Seals Outstanding Young Lawyer of Houston, and in 2012, HYLA presented her with the Outstanding Mentor Award. In 2008, the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas named her Judge of the Year.
Judge Elrod is honored to be a part of the DBA’s celebration of Law Day, and she believes that President Eisenhower’s words at the first Law Day proclamation—that without the rule of law, civilization could not survive—are as crucial today as they were then. Judge Elrod is committed to promoting the rule of law for citizens living in a democratic republic. While presiding over naturalization ceremonies, Judge Elrod has seen first-hand the appreciation new American citizens have for their rights in our country. Judge Elrod also notes that the importance of the rule of law in securing the right to vote is evident in news from around the world, such as in the striking pictures of the Iraqi people proudly holding up their purple-stained fingers after voting for the first time. Judge Elrod commends the DBA for celebrating Law Day and for spending time in schools to help children learn the importance of the rule of law.
The luncheon begins at noon on Friday, May 2, 2014, at the Belo Mansion. Doors open at 11:45 a.m. Tickets are $40 per person or $400 per table. For tickets or more information, contact Mary Ellen Johnson at email@example.com or (214) 220-7400. Reservations are available online at www.dallasbar.org.
Meghan Hausler is an associate with Baker & McKenzie LLP and a Co-Vice Chair of the DBA’s Publications Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.