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May Commemorative Observances

A few years ago, the Law Library was asked to research and create web pages on commemorative observances. The project included identification of the laws which were passed and presidential proclamations which were issued to establish and annually observe these commemorations.  The relevant pages can be found on the Law Library’s website under “Legal Topics.”

Over the past two and a half years, In Custodia Legis has posted several articles on various commemorative observations including African American History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Women’s History Month and LGBT Month.  For this blog, I wanted to look to May which has three commemorative observations: Law Day, Jewish American Heritage Month, and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

Law Day is, of course, dear to the hearts of the Law Library as it was established to celebrate the American legal system.  The first proclamation for Law Day was issued in 1958 by President Eisenhower designating May 1, 1958 as:

[a] day of national dedication to the principle of government under laws [that] would afford us an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the manifold virtues of such a government and to focus the attention of the world upon them.

In 1961, Congress passed Pub. L. 87-20, 75 Stat. 43 permanently establishing Law Day “for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.”  Since 1958, United States presidents have issued annual proclamations reminding us of the importance of this day, while the American Bar Association selects an annual theme for the day and provides a planning guide and resources for teachers and students to use.  Here at the Law Library we celebrate the day with an event and a small exhibit in the Law Library Reading Room.

May is also the month for Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.  Both of these commemorative observances began as commemorative weeks.  In 1978, Congress passed Pub. L. 95-419 directing the President to issue a proclamation designating the week beginning on May 4, 1979 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.  As requested by this law, President Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4650 on March 28, 1979 for the first celebration of this commemorative event.  In 1990-1991, Congress passed laws expanding the observance of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to a month, and in 1992 passed Pub.L. 102-450 which permanently designated May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.  Since then presidents have issued yearly proclamations calling upon us to learn about the history and contributions of Asian/Pacific Americans to the United States.

As with Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Jewish American History Month began with the passage of Pub.L. 96-237 which asked the President to proclaim a week in April or May as Jewish Heritage Week.  On April 24, 1980 President Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4752 which designated April 21-28, 1980 as Jewish Heritage Week.  From 1980 to 2006, Congress passed a number of laws designating weeks in April or May as Jewish Heritage Week while presidents passed annual proclamations for Jewish Heritage Week.  Then in February 2006, Congress passed House Current Resolution 315 calling on the president to issue a proclamation each year designating a month as American Jewish History Month.  President Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 8005 designating May as Jewish American Heritage Month. 

May is a month rich with opportunities to learn more about our heritage as a nation under the rule of law as well as the myriad contributions to our history and culture.


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