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Brooklyn Supreme Court celebrates the 14th Amendment at Law Day

May 5, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justice Matthew D’Emic explained the historical significance and the modern day impact of the 14th Amendment during a Law Day event on Wednesday. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn legal community held a Law Day ceremony at the Kings County Supreme Court in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday with a celebration of the 14th Amendment. Justice Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, was the keynote speaker at the event.

“We’re here to celebrate the many contributions of the 14th Amendment, the contributes it has made and will continue to make to protect our liberty and make us a more just country,” D’Emic said.

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Other speakers included Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for the Civil Term; Hon. Randall T. Eng, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department; Dean Nicholas Allard of Brooklyn Law School; Hon. Frank Seddio, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association; and Hon. George Silver, the newly appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Courts.

After a brief moment of silence for the late Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Justice Knipel opened the ceremony by talking about Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative and how it has helped in Brooklyn.

“Like a breath of fresh air, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has been transforming our judicial establishment,” Knipel said. “Consequently we at Kings County and across the state are involved in a top to bottom self-critical analysis to determine the best procedures to improve the efficiency of our court’s operation, to expedite cases and improve the overall quality of our courthouse.”

Knipel then cited statistics to show off the courts changes. Since January 2015, when the Excellence Initiative was enacted, there has been a reduction of pending caseload by a full 7,000 civil cases in the Kings County Supreme Court, according to Knipel. There has also been a reduction in pending foreclosure cases from 11,600 in January 2015 to about 8,000 today, and the average time for cases to get to trial is down to just nine months.

Knipel also introduced Justice George Silver, who is taking over for Hon. Fern Fisher as the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for NYC on July 1.

The focus eventually turned to the topic at hand — the 14th Amendment.

Eng spoke about how even after the 14th Amendment was established, there were still questions about who, exactly, was to be a citizen of the U.S. Eng then told the tale of Chinese-American Wong Kim Ark, who was the namesake of the U.S. Supreme Court trial of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, but it wasn’t until that trial in 1898 that it was determined that anyone born in the U.S. was a citizen.

“It took a 44-page decision of the court to clarify this fundamental right,” said Eng. “Reluctantly, the majority concluded that anyone born in the United States was a citizen — no ifs, ands or buts.”

Dean Allard spoke about professor Joseph Crea, the namesake of Brooklyn Law School deanship, and about the importance of finding good heroes, especially in today’s contentious political atmosphere.

“We must do better, we can do better,” Allard said. “We can teach our children that facts matter, words and language matter, tolerance matters, patience and perseverance matter, rules matter. We must try. Recall Edmund Burke’s admonition: ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.’ And there is so much each of us can do.”

D’Emic, who is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School, gave a brief history lesson on the 14th Amendment, the reasons it was needed, it’s impact then and how it is still felt today.

“In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, congress passed the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery once and for all, but did not carve out specific rights for the newly freed men and women.

Because of the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, questions of citizenship for former slaves hung over the nation — even though they were free there was nothing to protect them and ensure they were treated fairly.

“Although its original purpose was to protect blacks from discrimination, the broad version of the Amendment has led the Supreme Court to hold other forms of discrimination constitutionally suspect requiring high scrutiny of any law based on gender, sexual orientation, national origin and immigration status. The importance of these constitutional protections cannot be overstated. Rarely does a Supreme Court term go by without some decision grounded in the 14th Amendment.”

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