American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters Law Day 2014
Appellate Court Law Day Observance Historical Figures Attend Mock Press Conference At Appellate Court,
Connecticut Bar Association Law Day FestivitiesSee slideshow below
HARTFORD—If a chance bystander walked into the Connecticut Appellate
Court the morning of May 5th, s/he would’ve been transported back in time to
press conferences with four famous people.
The Appellate Court hosted the Connecticut Bar Association (CBA) and students from around the area for a
mock press conference with historical figures Gouverneur Morris,
Dorr, Alice Paul and
John Lewis. The figures discussed then answered
questions from reporters (played by students) concerning the grander Law Day
theme: Reflections on American Democracy: The Historic, and Continuing
Struggle for the Right to Vote.
Each of these figures influenced their times on whether everyone had the right to vote and, as in the case of Alice
Paul and John Lewis, even put their lives on the line to advocate that women
and minorities receive that sacred privilege.
The mock press conference began with remarks by Appellate Court Chief Judge Alexandra D. DiPentima,
who welcomed all gathered, particularly the assembled students, and thanked
them for their interest in voting rights and its history in our democracy.
Attorney Matthew D. Gordon of the CBA was the moderator who introduced each
of the historic figures.
Students from Manchester’s Assumption School,
West Hartford’s Westfield Academy and Litchfield’s Montessori Middle School
comprised the mock press corps while Attorney Kathryn Calibey played the
Following the Mock Press Conference, Secretary of State
Denise W. Merrill presented citations to each of the students and teachers
in attendance. CBA President Kimberly A. Knox also made remarks.
Gouverneur Morris, played by a bewigged-and-tri-corner-hatted Attorney Lewis
Button, represented the conservative’s view of who should have the right to
vote. An aristocrat of French and English descent (born in New York on
1-31-1752), he was a signer of the Articles of Confederation and is best
remembered for writing the Preamble to the Constitution. Though one of the
leading figures at the Constitutional Convention, he did not favor the right
to vote for all men. Instead, he believed that men with property should only
be allowed to vote.
Fervently quoting Morris, Attorney Button said, "I categorically deny that I believe that our new country should be run as an
aristocracy. Neither do I believe that we should go to the opposite extreme
and allow universal suffrage which would permit any man to vote….Men who own
property will be the faithful guardians of liberty for all. They have the
greatest stake in a responsible, well-functioning government and have the
judgment and experience to make wise choices about candidates for public
With his characterization of Gouverneur Morris, Attorney Button
drew a few catcalls from the assembled "press corps."
The group calmed down somewhat, however, when Attorney Daniel Krisch stepped up to represent
Thomas Dorr, (born 11-5-1805). Born in Providence, RI, he was a Harvard
graduate who earned his law degree in New York City. He would go on to
become Governor of Rhode Island (May, 1842-January 1843). Dorr fiercely
believed that men should not have to own land to vote. He was imprisoned for
With an impassioned voice Attorney Krisch echoed Dorr’s
sentiments, which explained how he landed in prison. "How did I get myself
in prison? Well, during my time in the General Assembly, I was instrumental
in launching a campaign to draft a new state constitution and repeal the
current voting restrictions to allow all white men to vote.
"Men should not have to own land to vote," he continued. "The industrial revolution is
upon us and we have to change with the times. Men are working in the
factories and renting city apartments with their families. Every white male
should have the right to vote, including the Irish."
Ultimately, thanks to Dorr’s advocacy, in 1843, Rhode Island adopted a new constitution which
granted the ability to vote to all white males who could pay a $1 poll tax.
Alice Paul (born in NJ 1-11-1885) was raised in a Quaker family,
attended Swarthmore College, and then went to live in England for a time.
When she returned, she embraced the suffragist movement, eventually forming
the National Woman’s Party with Lucy Burns. She would become a key figure in
the movement that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment (passed in 1920
giving women the right to vote). She was a tireless advocate who was jailed
on more than one occasion for organizing protests with provocative visual
Barbara Nidzgorski, a teacher, debate team and acting coach from
Niantic, closely channeled Ms. Paul and gave a stirring representation. She
talked of her often aggressive tactics to gain the vote for women.
"My allegiance to women’s right to vote began early in my life. As a young girl,
I attended local women suffrage meetings with my mother, a member of the
National American Women Suffrage Association. It wasn’t until I was in
England studying social work, however, that I was transformed from a
reserved idealist to a militant suffragist…When I returned to America in
1910, I was determined to reshape the voting rights campaign for women in
this county. Instead of efforts limited to gaining rights within each state,
my goal was a national amendment guaranteeing women’s equal right to vote. I
must admit, my methods in obtaining this goal were controversial even among
some of my fellow suffragettes."
Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Robinson, playing Civil Rights activist John Lewis, echoed his character’s
passion and words, "Even as a very young man, I knew that the vote is the
most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society."
Lewis (born 2-21-1940) was the son of an Alabama sharecropper and suffered the
abuses and insults of segregation while growing up in the South in the 40s,
50s and early 60s. As a student at Fisk University and Chairman of the
national Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee he helped organize
college students’ participation in the Civil Rights Movement and in the
fight for every citizen’s right to vote—despite race or sex. He was the
youngest member of the Civil Rights Big Six (along with Martin Luther King,
Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young).
Judge DiPentima offered closing remarks, and then gathered with Attorney
Knox, Secretary Merrill and the students and historical figures for informal