The Oakland Press
The State Bar of Michigan awarded 21 sixth graders at the Cranbrook Girls Middle School first place in the annual State Bar of Michigan Law Day Contest.
This is the second consecutive year that a team from Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Township has earned first place. The girls were sponsored by Michigan attorneys Gerard Mantese, Theresamarie Mantese and Greg Nowakowski.
State Bar President-Elect Brian Einhorn was in attendance to address the students, as was Margaret J. Krasnoff, chair of the State Bar Law Related Education and Public Outreach Committee. Honorable Fred Mester was also present and praised the students, parents and advisors alike.
Cranbrook Girls Middle School was represented by Head of School Stacy Rivard, who emphasized how proud she was of the students in engaging in this Law Day project. Also present from Cranbrook Middle School was its Dean Nola-rae Cronan.
Over the last two years, the State Bar’s Public Outreach Committee has invited participants in the contest to submit a creative entry based on a historic Michigan legal event. The Cranbrook winners created a video dramatization of the famous dissent by Michigan attorney and jurist Frank Murphy in the case of Korematsu v. United States. Margaret Krasnoff, representing the State Bar of Michigan, emphasized that the new format, allowing Internet-type submissions, modernizes the contest and encourages use of creative media.
The Korematsu case involved the United States government’s decision to intern Japanese-Americans in camps after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The government’s decision, and the subsequent court case highlighted by the Cranbrook students, represented the height of discrimination and was based on unsubstantiated fears of disloyalty.
Fred Korematsu refused to report to a camp and was arrested and convicted of violating the internment order. He challenged his conviction all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, where the conviction was affirmed.
However, Frank Murphy, a lifetime resident of Michigan and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, who was sitting on the United States Supreme Court at the time of the case, issued a brave and eloquent dissent from the majority. Ultimately, history proved that Judge Murphy was on the right side of the issue, as the majority decision was discredited and, decades later, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned by a writ of coram nobis and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The winning submission by the Cranbrook sixth graders was a 34-minute video production that dramatized the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the military internment order, the trial and appeal by Korematsu, the Supreme Court opinion and the subsequent events surrounding Korematsu’s life and legal efforts.
The students researched, wrote, acted and played music to the entire production, ending it with an original song entitled “I Dissent.” The film also featured an interview with a gentleman from Royal Oak who interned at a camp in Wyoming in 1942. The children voted to contribute the $1,000 first-place prize to Child Safe. Ann Marie Lesniak was there to accept the check on behalf of Child Safe. She thanked the students for their contributions, noting that many foster children are in need of housing and other services.
Mester was instrumental in publicizing Law Day when he was on the Oakland County bench. In a speech he delivered in 2011, he emphasized, “The purpose of Law Day is to remind each of us of the founders admonition that this new government was to be a government of laws, not men. ... The Rule of Law has provided the environment for each individual to have a certainty of opportunity, to bloom to his/her full potential and play their special part in making the greatness of America. ... The law is more than procedure, document or statute. It is alive with the sensitivity and ideals of the people at their highest. It is the bulwark of freedom and the bastion of progress.”