By TRINA BERNAL
Law Day is a national day to celebrate our legal system. Every year, Benicia’s City of Attorney hosts a Law Day contest with the theme changing each time. For the 2018 Contest, it was focused on the checks and balances system while last year it focused on the Constitution. Last year Kian Braulik (10) won a first prize of $300, while Jackson Hahn Smith (10) won second place with $150.
This year, entrants went up by six, with a total of eight entries! One of them is our very own at Benicia High, Kaitlyn Tang (11), who wrote a poem. She produced a haunting but accurate piece that represents exactly what separation of powers is and how, through the system of powers, the branches of government keep each other in check. With a steady, yet rhythmic, pace, Tang (11) is able to capture perfectly how the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches are like a family. “Like three siblings, the branches guarded one another and made sure not to grow higher than the other”.
The writing process included her recalling middle school, when it was required to memorize the Constitution introduction in history class. Tang (11) said, “When I wrote the poem, I thought about the balance that constitutes life, and how it’s such a necessity in maintaining order. I also used the Preamble we were required to memorize in 8th grade as an inspiration for the poem, just reflecting on how the separation of powers and embracing that idea of balance can truly protect us.”
City Attorney Department Aide, David Kramer, also entered and won in the essay category. He wrote about the Cherokee tribe that was suffering due to the executive branch (Andrew Jackson) acting short of his Constitutional obligation where We the People (including the president) “form a more perfect Union [and] establish Justice”, “promote the general Welfare”, and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. In short, the Constitution implies that Justice be served to all who need it. In Kramer’s essay, he mainly touched on how the Trail of Tears ultimately caused the death of 4,000 Cherokee while traveling between their homeland and Oklahoma, the designated Cherokee tribe home set by former President Andrew Jackson. Before the deaths, there was the court case of ‘Worcester v. Georgia’ where Georgia wasn’t supposed to remove Native American tribes (like the Cherokees), and the federal government was the only one with jurisdiction over such issues.
People may like history, others not, but Kramer was able to really take what he can from it as he was a history major as an undergraduate. To go in front of a crowd to receive an accolade is exciting and humbling, but also nerve-wracking. David recalled, “It felt great winning the award, especially since the prize has allowed me to try out some new restaurants downtown. I was a bit nervous when I had to accept my award in front of the city council and all of the heads of the various departments in Benicia, but I tried to smile and be gracious.”
Principal Kleinschmidt loved the participation of our students in the Law Day contest. Mrs. Kleinschmidt acknowledges that most of our student body aren’t necessarily given enough praises for their hard work, and she appreciates how Kaitlyn is “one of a select few of students recognized for their work. I want to congratulate Kaitlyn on her award. It highlights the importance of students taking advantage of opportunities to submit their work to all of the different awards and opportunities that are out there.”
If you’re interested, write on your calendar right now for the penultimate (second-to-last) Thursday of April, the deadline to write or draw your appreciation (or un-appreciation) for our legal system.
“Guardian Tree By Kaitlyn Tang In the soil, the phrase trias politica is muttered /The basis of a nation’s government yet to be uttered /Into the world where balance constitutes life, /And establishes equanimity when there is strife /The hands of our founding fathers were coated in this soil /They planted the seeds to free America from turmoil /The seeds germinated under the care of the people /A prerequisite for a new future made equal /With ink and paper they carved lines through the ground /To inscribe the system of which our roots are now found /To form a new union where the leaves intertwine /And insure tranquility in our domestic shrine /The patterns and words etched in this Constitution /Fertilized the seedling of a new institution /One that embraced the great separation of powers /And worked systematically like clock hands skimming the hours /Through nurture and care, three branches emerged /And with separate functions, the branches diverged /Legislative governed where the leaves should be placed /And the executive determined if it would be embraced /The fulcrum of this tree became the judicial /It ensured that the two branches would not be prejudicial /For the order established watched over the tree /And the weight of the fruits kept the law balanced and free /Like three siblings, the branches guarded one another /And made sure not to grow higher than the other /Each branch required equal exposure to the sun /But no amount of shade could turn this bond undone /So today this ancient tree still stands /Protecting its fruits in calloused hands /The hands that planted the seeds in this soil /And encapsulated our liberties in an ever-growing coil”
“ The balance of power between the three branches of government is a means by which justice and liberty are upheld. When the balance of power is breached it often results in outcomes that serve to precipitate tragedy. One such case is the forced removal of the Cherokee from their home in Georgia to Oklahoma in what would subsequently become known as the Trail of Tears. From the onset the interactions between the young United States and the Cherokee nation were mostly positive. Unlike the other native American tribes first encountered by the settlers who founded Massachusetts and Virginia, the Cherokee were quick to adopt western customs and practices. The Cherokee it seems were open to being assimilated by the United States, but to their chagrin when they worked towards negotiations with their eastern neighbor they were met with a variety of states with different goals and policies. In most cases it seemed all that the states where the Cherokee resided next to wanted was their land and possessions. By the 1820s Georgia had begun to issue permits allowing settlers to squat on Cherokee land, and the Cherokee were unable to testify in court as to remove these trespassers. This means by which Cherokee land was redistributed stood against a supreme court ruling in favor of the Cherokee in Worcester v. Georgia. This supreme court ruling argued that the state of Georgia did not have the right to displace the Cherokee or other Native American tribes as only the federal government could make agreements with such entities. Andrew Jackson the president and head of the executive branch in 1832 when the decision in Worchester v. Georgia was reached challenged the verdict stating the chief justice John Marshal had made the decision now it was up to him to enforce it. The Executive’s refusal to enforce the Judiciary’s decision stood in contrast to the intentions of the constitution which states “The judicial power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity arising under this Constitution”. In this instance law and equity were cast by the wayside. By allowing the state of Georgia to continue its program of displacing the Cherokee and issuing permits by which to justify this theft, Jackson failed to uphold the balance of power by reducing the effectiveness of the judiciary and the rule of law. The Georgia legislature had passed a series of laws abolishing the independent government of the Cherokee and extending state law over their territory around 1828, but it wasn’t until the Treaty of New Echota that the Cherokee were “legitimately” removed from their land.
This legitimacy arose from the power of Congress to pass laws and the senate by one vote decided to relocate the Cherokee in exchange for 5 million dollars. Although the treaty legitimized the relocation of the Cherokee, the clause stating that Cherokee who wished to remain would be entitled to 160 acres was ignored by president Martin Van Buren when the treaty went into effect in 1838. This once again saw the executive branch failing to enforce the terms brought about by the rule of law set up by the legislative and judiciary branches of government. This led to the untimely deaths of 4000 Cherokee while in transit between their homeland and Indian Territory who would have survived had they been offered their 160 acres of land east of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, this tragedy in which Cherokee land was stolen could have been avoided had the executive branch restrained Georgia and its “mandate” to take Cherokee land in the early 1830’s under Andrew Jackson, and had Martin Van Buren upheld the conditions specified in the Treaty of New Echota.”- David Kramer