New York State’s court system has gone mostly virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Friday so did the annual Law Day celebration.
The 2020 theme, chosen by the American Bar Association, was “Your vote, your voice, our democracy,” in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which established the right to vote for women.
In a prerecorded message posted Friday to the state court website, New York State Chief Justice Janet DiFiore, state Attorney General Letitia James and New York State Bar Association President Henry Greenberg spoke about the role of the legal profession in preserving and protecting the franchise in a pandemic.
DiFiore said the pioneers who gathered in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights would be pleased to see 131 women in Congress and making up about 42 percent of New York’s judiciary. However, she said, they would likely be dismayed by the electorate’s “woeful lack of civic knowledge” and low voter turnout in the U.S. The judiciary and the bar association plan to work with educators to change that when the pandemic conditions allow, she said.
James said her office will prosecute pandemic scammers and price-gougers, and protect the safety and rights of all New Yorkers.
“We have a higher responsibility than ever in these challenging times to ensure that the rule of law and the rights and dignity of the people we serve do not become casualties of the war against the pandemic,” James said. “We must do everything in our power to endure that every voter counts, and that every vote is counted,” she said.
Greenberg said New York has long been a leader in the fight for human rights, from Seneca Falls to the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which sparked the national fight for LGBTQ rights. New York will fight for voting rights, even as suppression efforts are underway elsewhere.
The pandemic is the greatest current threat to voting rights, he said, but if the state Legislature can change its rules to allow remote voting, we can devise a safe strategy for citizens.
“Voters must not have to choose between disease or democracy, between risking their health or exercising a civic duty,” he said. “Giving up on democracy is not an option. We will meet the challenge. From Seneca Falls to Stonewall, New York has fought for and defended fundamental rights like the right to vote. It is who we are. It is what we do. We are New Yorkers.”