Today should be 'Rule of Law Day'

Today should be 'Rule of Law Day'
© Kuzuma/iStock

Today is Law Day, America’s 1950s-vintage response to May Day, a day most people associate with parades through Red Square, if that. By statute, Law Day, U.S.A. is “a special day of celebration by the people of the United States . . . in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and . . . for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.” According to the American Bar Association, it is an opportunity “to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession.” With competition like Thanksgiving, Presidents Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the religious holidays, it’s hardly a surprise that Law Day has never made it to the Top 10 on the American calendar.

Law Day needs a facelift, and I suggest we begin by renaming it Rule of Law Day, because the Rule of Law itself — a phrase we usually employ when talking about other countries — is as much under siege as our society as a whole is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yes, it’s about President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE, his administration and his enablers.

Many and varied are the controversies the Trump administration has spawned. They range across the full breadth of government programs and powers, and it is understandable that some of them were so impossible to overlook that he became only the third president to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

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But it is important to look past the particulars, some of which were at issue in the impeachment process, and see the disturbing pattern that emerges. It is not the sheer number of norm violations, or Mr. Trump’s rock-bottom fecklessness, but the fact that those violations are so varied and pervasive that they call into question the very notion of regularity in the conduct of government. A few examples tell the tale:

From these trees a forest clearly emerges. When the core norms of American government are toppled or disregarded, it is not simply a question or one or another discrete feature being eroded; it is the underlying proposition that government is subject to binding legal limits.

A president has a duty under Article II of the Constitution to take care that the laws are enforced. A president also has a duty to uphold the Constitution itself. A president who treats the very notion of law as a trifle violates those duties.

Dedicating one day a year to the Rule of Law will have no effect on Mr. Trump, who is obviously tone deaf to these issues, but it may have a lasting salutary impact on the country to be more mindful when we elect our leaders.

Eugene R. Fidell teaches at Yale Law School and is of counsel at the Washington, D.C. law firm Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP. He edits the blog Global Military Justice Reform, globalmjreform.blogspot.com, and is on the steering committee of Lawyers Defending American Democracy.