Constitution Day — Celebrating a Living Document
On Friday, September 18, 2015, the Palm Beach Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) hosted a James Otis Lecture at the Palm Beach County School Board headquarters building in West Palm Beach. ABOTA is a national organization of trial lawyers who believe in preserving the right to trial by jury, as guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the Constitution, the independence of the judiciary, and the highest standard of civility in the legal profession. I am privileged to serve at the president-elect of ABOTA’s Palm Beach Chapter.
Congress requires that all federally funded schools discuss the U.S. Constitution around the date of September 17th, the anniversary of its signing, and ABOTA’s James Otis lecture program was designed to allow schools meet that requirement. James Otis, Jr. was arguably the most influential lawyer in early American History. According to John Adams, who was President at the time, Otis’ eloquent argument in a Boston courtroom in 1761 challenging the British laws, known as the Writs of Assistance, lit the spark which led to the American Revolution. It was Otis who said “A man’s home is his castle.” Otis challenged oppressive laws which permitted warrantless searches of homes and businesses. His arguments were a ringing re-affirmation of the Anglo-American belief that all men are born with certain natural and inalienable rights which cannot be violated by any king, parliament, or other governmental authority. James Otis’ famous courtroom presentation is captioned in a sweeping mural painted by Robert Reid in 1901 in Nurse’s Hall, part of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
ABOTA created the James Otis’ Lecture Series to educate and inspire students across our nation so they will have the knowledge of and respect for the United States Constitution. The Palm Beach Chapter of ABOTA is honored to have several noteworthy participants each year. With students representing high schools throughout Palm Beach County, we celebrate this important and historic event. We congratulate the carefully selected students and recognize them as James Otis scholars. The program is organized every year by attorney and ABOTA-Palm Beach Chapter member Bill Price, who deserves much credit. The program was televised to the entire Palm Beach County School Disctrict, the largest East of the Mississippi.
This year, we were honored to have the newly appointed Superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District, Dr. Robert Avossa, who welcomed the students and gave a heartfelt recap of his arrival to the U.S. from abroad as a child in pursuit of the American Dream which is anchored in the U.S. Constitution. We were joined by Michael Allen, the associate Dean of Stetson Law School, who began the program with an entertaining lecture about how the Constitution came to be. This was followed by discussion and questions by an audience of at least 300 students by Judges Moses Baker, Martha Warner and Ron Alvarez about how the Constitution comes into play in our day-to-day activities. Judge Alvarez told the inspiring story of his work in the juvenile court and how, Veronica Limia, one of the “kids” under his care at a juvenile judge overcame tremendous obstacles to become a lawyer. Ms. Limia, also present, followed up with a motivational message to the students to follow their dreams and how the Constitution makes it possible for all to do so.
One cannot emphasize the importance of civics this day and age, so it was especially rewarding to participate in a program where students learn that the Constitution is more than just words on paper. It is a living and breathing document.