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OCTOBER 2015 - Constitution Day
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WLALA Board Members Participated in a Constitution Day Essay Contest for High School Students

by Hon. Sandra R. Klein and Destiny Almogue, extern to Hon. Sandra R. Klein

In 1940, Congress established “I Am An American Day”—a precursor to Constitution Day and Citizenship Day—to recognize “all who, by coming of age or naturalization, have attained the status of citizenship”[1] and to highlight “the privileges and responsibilities of being an American citizen.”[2]  In 1952, September 17th officially became “Citizenship Day” to commemorate the formation and signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.[3]  In 2004, Citizenship Day was renamed “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day”[4] (Constitution Day). 

To celebrate Constitution Day, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California and the Los Angeles Chapter of the Federal Bar Association (FBA-LA) sponsored an essay-writing contest for high school students in the Greater Los Angeles Area.  “Our Constitution: What the American Dream Means to Me” was the theme of the contest, which challenged students to write an essay focusing on how the American Dream is made possible by the Constitution. 

A team of lawyers from the FBA-LA, led by Xiomara Costello and Kristen Tuey, reviewed 121 essays and selected the semifinalists.  District Judges André Birotte Jr. and Beverly Reid O’Connell, a WLALA Board member, Magistrate Judges Paul L. Abrams and Jean P. Rosenbluth, and Bankruptcy Judges Sandra R. Klein, a WLALA Board member, and Maureen A. Tighe chose the first, second, and third place winners, along with four honorable mentions.

Emily Filkin, a senior at North Hollywood High School, won first place in the contest.  Emily’s essay focused on how the constitutional protections of the Fourteenth Amendment allowed her family to emigrate from Vietnam to the United States.  She highlighted the ways in which her family has been afforded the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.  As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Bd. of Educ.,[5] Emily’s grandmother was able to attend college at Columbia University, where she met her husband-to-be.  Because of the Fourteenth Amendment, Emily’s mother, who was born in New York, was a U.S. citizen.[6]  Emily’s grandparents returned to Vietnam to raise their daughter.  They were, however, forced from their home during the Vietnam War. 

The protections afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment allowed Emily’s mother to return to the U.S.,[7] where she petitioned for her parents’ asylum.  Emily’s mother earned her M.D. from Tulane University.  She was able to marry Emily’s father—a white Anglo-Saxon man—because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia,[8] which held that anti-miscegenation laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment.  Emily was raised in Southern California, where she has attended public schools.  She aspires to become an op-ed columnist to expose prejudice and to remove barriers that stand in the way of attaining the American Dream. 

The second place prize was awarded to Michelle Jaimes, a senior at Alliance Patti & Peter Neuwirth Leadership Academy (Neuwirth Academy).  Michelle’s essay focused on the extension of voting rights to citizens of all races under the Fifteenth Amendment[9] and to women under the Nineteenth Amendment.[10]  Michelle noted that, under the Constitution, every citizen has an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Michelle is intrigued by people’s stories and cultures and is interested in becoming a journalist or a novelist.

Marco Vazquez, also a senior at Neuwirth Academy, earned third place in the contest.  The heart of Marco’s essay was the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe,[11] which has had a monumental impact on Marco’s life, allowing him to attend public school despite his immigrant status.  Marco discussed the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  In the future, Marco hopes to be involved in politics to improve the environment of his community. 

Awards for honorable mention went to Amy Diaz and Rosa Estrada, students at Neuwirth Academy, and Kevin Farfan and Jasmin Figueroa, students at Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School (Burton Academy).  Valerie Felix, a teacher at Burton Academy, as well as Burton Academy, were recognized as the teacher and school whose students submitted the most essays.     

During the Constitution Day program honoring the contest winners, Judge Klein welcomed the guests and provided a brief history of Constitution Day’s origins.  Kathleen Campbell, Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court, mentioned that one of the Bankruptcy Court’s strategic initiatives is to increase public understanding, trust, and confidence in the judiciary by engaging in community outreach efforts, such as the Constitution Day event.  Chief Bankruptcy Judge Sheri Bluebond introduced the judges and special guests in attendance, including Ninth Circuit Judge Raymond C. Fisher, Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal, a WLALA member, Magistrate Judges Gail J. Standish and Michael R. Wilner, Bankruptcy Judge Maureen A. Tighe, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, and Federal Public Defender Trial Chief John Littrell.  Kenneth D. Sulzer, President of the FBA-LA, announced the winners and provided them with their awards and certificates.  The highlight of the event was when Emily Filkin read her first place essay.  Judge Klein concluded the ceremony by thanking all of the FBA-LA members and all of the Bankruptcy Court staff who worked tirelessly to make the event such a success.  After the awards ceremony, all of the participants and guests, including WLALA Board members Cathy Ostiller and Lindsay Kelly, enjoyed mingling during a catered reception. 

PHOTOS (Back row from left):  Valerie Felix, Burton Academy teacher; Michelle Jaimes, 2nd place winner; Emily Filkin, 1st place winner; Marco Vazquez, 3rd place winner; Amy Diaz, honorable mention; and Rosa Estrada, honorable mention; (Front row from left): Kenneth D. Sulzer, President FBA-LA; Bankruptcy Judge Maureen A. Tighe; Bankruptcy Judge Sandra R. Klein; Chief Bankruptcy Judge Sheri Bluebond; Ninth Circuit Judge Raymond C. Fisher; Magistrate Judge Michael R. Wilner; and Magistrate Judge Gail J. Standish.   

[1] H.R.J. Res. 437, 76th Cong., 54 Stat. 178 (1940).

[2]  86 Cong. Rec. 5115 (1940) (statement Rep. Sumners, Rep. Hobbs, and Rep. Guyer, Managers on the part of the House on the amendments to the joint resolution authorizing the President of the United States of America to proclaim “I am an American Day,” also known as “Citizenship Day,” for the recognition, observance, and commemoration of American citizenship).  

[3] H.R.J. Res. 314, 82nd Cong., 66 Stat. 9 (1952).

[4] 36 U.S.C. § 106.

[5] 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (holding that separate educational facilities for different races are inherently unequal).

[6] U.S. Const. Amend. 14, § 1.

[7] See United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (holding that Congress cannot restrict the grant under the Fourteenth Amendment of naturalized citizenship by birth).

[8] 388 U.S. 1 (1967).

[9] U.S. Const. Amend. 15, § 1.

[10] U.S. Const. Amend. 19, § 1.

[11] 457 U.S. 202 (1982) (holding that undocumented school-aged children could not be denied free public education offered to other children in Texas without a showing that such denial furthered some substantial state interest).