California Lawyers Association

A Reflection on Law Day, COVID-19 and the Rule of Law

May 2020

Emilio Varanini and Chip Wilkins

By President Emilio Varanini and 
Chairman of the Board of Representatives Howard “Chip” Wilkins

As the California Lawyers Association, the legal community, and the public continue to work together in facing resolutely COVID-19, we cannot forget the importance of the rule of law to our society. That makes this year’s Law Day on May 1st all that much more important.

For this year’s Law Day, under the leadership of our Civics Engagement and Outreach Committee, we rolled out a toolkit that educates fifth-grade students on the importance of voting rights, this online toolkit can be used equally by educators or CLA volunteers. This toolkit is part of our theme for 2020, “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.” It follows on our eNews column in March about the importance of voting rights and will be followed by further action on or around September 17, 2020 – Constitution Day.

We thank our Civic Engagement and Outreach Committee, chaired by Jerrilyn Malana, for all of their incredible work in rolling out this toolkit in the middle of this pandemic. We encourage all of our members to look at the toolkit and consider ways in which you can help educate students at all levels about the importance of constitutional amendments designed to secure our rights – such as the 19th Amendment. 

Interestingly, the campaign for women’s suffrage occurred in the midst of a different pandemic, the 1918 Spanish flu. Although the illness disrupted campaign events, historians believe the flu, along with World War I, ended up helping to make the case for a woman’s right to vote. The twin calamities threw a spotlight on women’s patriotic service as millions of women flocked to serve as nurses or volunteers and fill essential jobs traditionally held by men who were deployed to the battlefront.

Collaborating With Other Bar Associations

Bar associations around the world are very mindful of the need to address the pandemic while continuing to work to safeguard the rule of law and human rights. To this end, on April 27, 2020, the Law Society of Hong Kong held its President’s Roundtable, via zoom, attended by more than 80 bar associations including for the first time ever CLA, to share ideas on how we all are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Our attending this roundtable builds on the work that we have been doing in convening local bar associations and in working with the Bench-Bar coalition to address the challenges that COVID-19 poses for our members, the profession, the courts, and the rule of law.

From that roundtable, it was clear that we all felt a shared duty to explore ways in which we had been and could continue to advocate on behalf of, and support, our members and the profession in the midst of this pandemic. The rule of law begins with our members and with our profession as it does for all of our fellow bar associations. Like our fellow bar associations around the world, CLA is working to ensure that our members are aware of resources available to them in this time where we all need support to get through this pandemic together and where what it means to practice law may be evolving. And like them, we will continue to advocate on behalf of members and on behalf of the profession.

We also felt a shared duty to continue our work to ensure that governments around the world could address the pandemic in effective ways while not giving up either the rule of law or human rights. Like our fellow bar associations around the world, CLA has taken the lead on behalf of professionals in this state, and working in conjunction with local bar associations, to aid the courts in addressing the impact of COVID-19 in effective ways without sacrificing the rule of law. We will continue to do so.

Creating Resources for Our Members and the Public

We also feel a shared duty to help the public in this time of suffering and hardship as part of our duty as attorneys to serve the public so as to further the rule of law. To this end, CLA has been producing videos on various legal topics, through the incredible work of our Sections, to help inform the public about issues that may affect them as we all work together to beat this pandemic.

And, we are happy to announce, CLA has set up a community in which our members can crowdsource questions and ideas for addressing issues raised by the pandemic. The issues can range from applications for loans or other aid under federal legislation such as the CARES Act to the scope of local and state emergency orders – as they change to respond to the latest situation involving the pandemic in California and elsewhere. By crowdsourcing questions and ideas, the members of CLA, together, will be able to better serve the public. And more is to come about pro bono initiatives that CLA will be rolling out soon with partners to provide the public with access to justice, an important component of the rule of law, in order to begin to meet the gap in access exacerbated by COVID-19.

The toolkit that we just rolled out is one of these many resources that we are creating for our members and the public. Ultimately, we hope this toolkit, the first of what hopefully will be many, will be useful to teachers throughout the state who are adjusting to their new online teaching formats. We also hope that CLA members will be able to deliver the program in their local classrooms after schools reopen. For more information on bringing this program to an online classroom near you, please contact Ellen Miller, director of strategic partnerships and initiatives at ellen.miller@calawyers.org.

None of us thought in 2019 that as Law Day 2020 arrived, we would be facing a pandemic that is as challenging in its own way as the 1918 Spanish flu was.

But, as we have discussed and continue to discuss with our fellow international, national, state, and local bar associations how to address this pandemic, we find the principles of the rule of law and human rights that underpin our democracy to be as enduring and resilient as they were back then. And keeping these principles in mind, we are confident that our members, the profession, federal, state, and local governments, and the courts will weather this storm and come out it even stronger than before.

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