President Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958 to mark our nation's commitment to the rule of law. In 1961, Congress designated May 1 as the official date for Law Day. Every president since has issued a Law Day proclamation on May 1 to celebrate our nation's commitment to the rule of law.
This year, the ABA theme for Law Day is Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law. Perhaps more than any other document in human history, the Magna Carta embodies a simple but enduring truth: No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law. Eight centuries have elapsed since the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215. It has become an international symbol of the rule of law and as an inspiration for many basic rights Americans hold dear today, including due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the right to travel.
On Law Day, I reflect on my own experiences working with the rule of law in Afghanistan for two years as it slowly developed following 30 years of war. While Afghans have a long way to go in their journey implementing the rule of law, the foundation for has been laid for them to have many basic rights.
I fondly recall sharing the first Law Day celebration with our Afghan legal colleagues from the Ministry of Defenseand Ministry of the Interior (Afghan National Police) in 2010 and the pride that they exhibited to be a part of it. On my second deployment to Afghanistan working in the Interagency Rule of Law at the U.S. Embassy in 2012, I remember asking Afghan students at American University in Kabul to tell me how they would define rule of law. The students talked about how politicians, warlords, powerbrokers, and the rich have to be held accountable and to same laws as everyone else in Afghanistan. In short, the most common answer was, "No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law." The students got it.
In the U.S., some take for granted many basic rights that are attributes of a healthy rule of law system. After working closely with Afghan officials and civil society for two years to develop rule of law institutions, re-write Afghan criminal laws, and have Afghans stand up for their own legal rights that many in our own country take for granted, I have seen first-hand what happens when there has been a breakdown in the rule of law in a country. We are very fortunate that the Magna Carta served as an inspiration for many of our own basic rights under the rule of law in our own country. On this Law Day 2015, it is important to take a moment to remember this enduring truth as a symbol of freedom under the law: No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.