Over the last few days, I’ve had the great fortune of attending the American Bar Association’s Midyear Meeting, where I serve as a delegate from Connecticut in the House of Delegates — the organization’s main policy-making branch.
Earlier this morning, Representative John Lewis (D-GA) gave the invocation at the HOD assembly and issued his prepared remarks. On Tuesday, he will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian award.
If you are unfamiliar with his background, a short bio is here. His work with the civil rights movement is legendary.
He reminded all of us that it was not that long ago when the rule of law took over to allow African-Americans and others true opportunities:
“When people say nothing has changed, I say come and walk in my shoes. We have witnessed a non-violent revolution under the rule of law….
“As a young child, I tasted the bitter fruits of racial discrimination. My parents would say that’s the way it is, don’t get in trouble," But when he heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violent protest on the radio, “I felt he was talking directly to me.”
“If it hadn’t been for lawyers and judges, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Lewis said. “I went to jail 40 times, and it was members of the bar who got me out of jail, and I want to thank you.”
It’s easy to complain that sometimes enforcing our employment laws is onerous. And at times, it is. Certainly, the myriad of workplace rules as they stand today place a tremendous unfair burden on businesses — particularly small ones who have to spend countless hours navigating through various state and federal laws. Sadly, you sometimes need a lawyer now just to figure out what all the laws mean.
But hearing the words of John Lewis, you can also be reminded of why at least some laws were needed in the first place. It’s easy to dismiss the laws as a dated relic; Rep. Lewis reminds us that it still was not that long ago when it was legal to fire someone just because of their skin color. Whether the laws are functioning now as they were originally intended is an issue for another day.
(Photo taken at the ABA Meeting; Rep. Lewis is greeting delegates (center)).