Local Law Day ceremony empowers youth, teachers

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by Cynthia Price

 

Although it is mostly attorneys who know about Law Day, a celebration established by President Eisenhower in 1958 and taking place May 1, the Muskegon County Bar Association has developed a way to celebrate it that everyone should take notice of.

Each year, a group of dedicated lawyers invites local students to participate in three competitions: an art contest for elementary students; an essay contest for middle school students, and a speech contest for high school students, with separate judging for grades 9-11 and grade 12.


John Noling, who has long promoted the competition and its winners through his Rotary Club connection, and David Klemm of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, joined them.


This year’s theme was “Separation of Powers—Framework for Freedom,” a fairly demanding topic for young people to tackle. The students met the challenge with flying colors.


The banquet room of the Lake House was this year’s venue.


 
In addition to the winners giving their speeches, the Bar Association gives other awards — including one honoring the teachers who encourage such scholarship. This year, Doug Clarke of Reeths-Puffer Schools won the Golden Apple Award. The award brings with it a $500 gift for use in the teacher’s classroom.


The Frank D. Scott Award, given to a non-attorney working in the area of state or local probation, went to Christine Coffee of Muskegon Country Probation, and the Liberty Bell Award, for a non-attorney who has promoted the Rule of Law, to Daniel Rabidoux, a graduate of the Veteran’s Court who overcame his challenges and went on to become a mentor to others in the program. (The Veteran’s Court is what is called a problem-solving court, where veterans who have run afoul of the law can get extra support for turning their lives around.)


The winners of the Elementary Art Contest were Jaylin Grieg, 5th grade, Ravenna Middle; Karley DeAnn Plekes, 5th Grade, Holton Public; Khaleeya Cook, 3rd grade, Beech Elementary; and Andrew Proska, 4th grade, North Muskegon Elementary (see photo).


Kate Conzemius, 7th grade, Holton; Amanda Johnson, 8th grade, Nellie B. Chisholm (NBC) School, Montague; Colin Berry, 8th grade, Mona Shores; and Isabelle McKeown, also of NBC school Montague, won the Middle School essay contest.


Winning the highest award in the speech contest for seniors in high school was Erynn Fullmer of Calvary Christian. Because she was out of town this week, the Examiner will feature her speech and photo in next week’s issue.


Other senior award winners, who receive scholarship funding along with other education-related items, were Jade Simmons of Muskegon, Jessica Assaad, Calvary Christian, and Brett Huff, North Muskegon.


The Grades 9-11 speech awards went to John Hayhurst, North Muskegon; Alexandria Assaad, Calvary Christian; Emily Mann, Mona Shores; and Patrick Bouman, Whitehall.

Bouman, whose speech is published below, says, “I got involved with the conversation because I joined my high school debate team and as part that we participate in Law Day. I was a little skeptical about it at first but as I did the research, I got more interested in it.” (Jesse Thompson is the debate team coach at Whitehall High.)


He said that as a result of writing the speech, he has some interest in becoming a lawyer. He has always been drawn to the sciences, he says, but maybe he will find a way to combine the two, such as working in environmental law.


His father was able to watch him give his speech, but his mother, who is a teacher, had to join them at the banquet later.


He definitely plans to enter next year; “The scholarship opportunities are pretty cool,” he comments.

 

 

Separation of Powers ­

Framework for Freedom

by Patrick Bouman, Whitehall High School

The founding fathers of the United States are often revered as the great visionaries for our country. They created the values, ideals, and most importantly, the founding documents that still dictate our laws today. When the Constitution was written over two hundred years ago, our founding fathers had a vision for a nation of liberty, equality, and happiness, ostensibly for all. In order to achieve this, it became necessary to establish a government with checks and balances over each branch. One of these checks is the President’s ability to pardon individuals and undo criminal sentences in Federal cases. With the exception of pardoning himself, the president’s authority to pardon upholds the integrity of the founding fathers’ intent to create a system that is safe from itself.


Without the presidential ability to pardon there is one less safeguard against a potentially unjust judicial system. Alexander Hamilton expresses this same idea in the Federalist Paper No. 74 when he writes, “ The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.” A recent example of this is when President Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning after she was convicted for treason. President Obama commuted her sentence, meaning he shortened it, because he believed that she deserved sympathy as a transgender woman. We know that pardons do not apply to state and civil trials, but in today’s political climate, it is not hard to imagine a scenario where flaws in the justice system must be checked, or at least carry the potential to be checked, by the office of the president. Moreover, without the ability to grant pardons, the President has almost no power over the Judicial Branch because the only other check is the authority to appoint Supreme Court Justices. Supreme Court Justices are in office until death, meaning that if the previous president had already filled the position, then the current president cannot nominate anyone else. This means that without the power to pardon, almost all of the President’s power over the Judicial Branch would rely on the death of a public servant. Therefore, any attempt to remove the president’s power to pardon would infringe on our system of checks and balances, and would be considered unconstitutional.


Article II, Section II, Clause I of the United States Constitution reads, “The President... shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” The power of impeaching the President has been used sparingly throughout the history of the United States, as only two Presidents have ever been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act when he fired his secretary of war without the Senate’s approval. Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice after his alleged affair with Monica Lewinsky. Checks and balances were designed to allow each of the three branches of government to regulate each other, so that no one branch is more powerful than another. Congress, which is part of the Legislative branch, has the power to impeach the president. Since impeachment is a regulatory action over the president, it is, by definition, a check over the Executive branch. If the President of the United States were to be able to pardon himself from impeachment, thus negating a power of the Legislative branch, then it would be in direct violation of the founding fathers’ intent for a balanced system of government.


Although the power to pardon is limited to Federal crimes, it still shines as a beacon of hope for those who are wrongfully convicted in a potentially flawed justice system. As it stands, the President’s power to grant pardons has been, and should remain, a safeguard that defends our nation’s system of checks and balances.