When I was young, I loved the 4th of July. I was raised in Roswell and Midland. Being a Jewish kid, there were a few holidays, like Christmas and Easter, where I felt downright left out. But that was never the case with the 4th of July. My father, the son of a Russian immigrant, embraced the 4th as if my family had been here since 1776. As a kid I remember the fireworks, the flag waving, and the sense of pride in being an American. Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson were childhood heroes.
In 1999 the “powers that be” built the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. They were quick to have their names plastered on the front of the building. They were almost as quick to display a crime victims’ memorial plaque in the foyer. In 2006, as President of HCCLA it dawned on me that the Declaration of Independence , the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were all missing from the foyer of the courthouse. HCCLA remedied that by making a gift of beautiful replicas that now grace our courthouse foyer.
When I was married, like many families, we divided up the holidays. The 4th of July was celebrated at my house. Each year I would cook up giant platters overflowing with ribs, chicken, sausage, the works. The kids and adults could not wait to eat. I would bring in the platters with much fanfare. Before I would let anyone so much as touch a chicken wing, I would have one of the younger kids read the first and last paragraphs of the Declaration. Not until those words were uttered did anyone get to eat. I wanted my family to remember why we celebrated the 4th.
Last year, I thought it might be nice for HCCLA members to publicly read the Declaration of Independence. About 20 of us gathered in front of the Courthouse. As we read the Declaration aloud, I think we were all a little surprised at our own reactions. We were stirred. This was not just some reading of a historic document; this was a public declaration of our own opposition to tyranny. One after another, our voices grew louder and read with more passion. Everything we stood for, everything we fought for, came out in the few minutes we stood reading together. Not a one of us had foreseen the visceral reaction we would have. Yet immediately we recognized that we had experienced something unique. Individually and as a group the public reading had empowered us. In reading the Declaration on the steps of the Courthouse, we invoked the spirit of our Founding Fathers and sent a public message to all that we were united in our fight for liberty and against tyranny. We sent a clear message to the courthouse powers that our fight against tyranny did not stop at the door to the courthouse.
A few months ago I had lunch with Gary Trichter. Gary asked me about the Reading. Gary had the idea to take what we started last year in Houston and spread it across Texas. I thought it was a great idea. He wanted TCDLA to encourage criminal defense lawyers across the state to read the Declaration so that people across Texas might remember the true meaning of the 4th.
Gary’s idea was a huge success. At over 30 courthouses this year lawyers read the Declaration of Independence out loud (see below). In Houston , HCCLA President Earl Musick lead over 100 lawyers and friends in a reading of the Declaration.
No doubt in years past the public reading of the Declaration of Independence was an annual tradition. It’s a tradition that has been lost to the media age. I am proud of HCCLA and TCDLA for rekindling the flame and bringing these words back to life. Perhaps, NACDL will follow HCCLA and TCDLA and bring the Declaration of Independence back to life on the steps of courthouses across this country. Only good can come from people hearing criminal defense lawyers reading the Declaration of Independence.