United States District Court

Western District of Virginia

United States District Court
Western District of Virginia
Honorable Elizabeth K. Dillon, Chief District Judge   |   Laura A. Austin, Clerk of Court   |   Jennifer K. Williams, Chief Probation Officer

Law Day

Law Day (May 1st) was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 as an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under the law.   He stated “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law if civilization is to survive it must choose the rule of law.”  Law Day provides an opportunity to help students and the public understand how the law protects our freedoms through programs and activities conducted by schools, courts, bar associations and civic groups.  

Third Annual Law Day Program

Voting and the Rights of Convicted Felons – A Debate

Approaching the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Western District of Virginia brought together a group of high school students, several distinguished members of the judicial, educational and legislative communities to participate in a lecture series and debate based on the 2014 theme of Law Day, American Democracy and the Rule of Law:  Why Every Vote Matters. 

Due to the recent interest in the repeal of laws that prohibit millions of felons from voting, the focus of the series of three lectures designed to prepare students to participate in a debate, Pros and Cons to Reinstating Felons’ Right to Vote.  The debate took place in the Richard H. Poff Federal Building on May 5, 2014.

The first lecture got underway with an AP Government Class at Hidden Valley High School.  Mike Pace, founder of the Virginia Law Foundation & the Virginia Bar Association Rule of Law Project, and The Center for the Rule of Law introduced the topic The Rule of Law to the students.   Students discussed a wide range of questions pertaining to the project and its origin, meaning and applicability as the basis of freedoms enjoyed by citizens.  The class concluded the lecture with an interactive game, The ABC’s of the Rule of Law.

The second lecture introduced the topic of the Evolution of the Amendments of the Constitution, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the role the courts have played in American history in protecting and enforcing the right to vote.  The instructors, Honorable Robert S. Ballou, Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Virginia, and Pat Hogeboom, Assistant United States Attorney, discussed the development of voting rights and how current legislation protects these rights for all individuals and the role voting plays in a healthy democracy.

The final lecture allowed students to bring the debate topic to life.  Gregg Habeeb, Delegate for Virginia House of Delegates and Onzlee Ware, retired Delegate for the Virginia House of Delegates discussed with the students current state laws affecting the voting rights of felons and restoration of voting rights, setting the stage for the May 5th debate, Pros and Cons to Reinstating Felons’ Right to Vote.

In anticipation of the debate, each student was given assigned reading material from The Rule of Law team, Judge Ballou, and the class teacher.  They also participated in class activities and discussions.  

The day of the debate, students were divided into ten teams and given five minutes to present the pros or the cons relating to the topic of reinstating a felon’s right to vote and answered questions from a panel of judges.  The panel of judges made up of lawyers and educators ruled which team presented the best developed debate for the topic.

Awards and Certificates were presented to the winning teams.

Judge Ballou found the lecture series a fantastic way to engage students throughout the whole semester in a discussion of the Rule of Law.  Judge Ballou noted, “these talented young men and women vigorously participated in the classroom and robustly debated the topic.  I found that the students analyzed the issues from many different perspectives and ultimately developed many different and challenging topics on the subject.  All around, it was a rewarding and enriching experience.”

Restoring the Voting Rights Act Presentation