DACC displays history of Illinois law

Listening to Danville Area Community College President Stephen Nacco's opening remarks about the Bicentennial of Illinois Law Exhibit are, from left, Vermilion County State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy; businesswoman, community volunteer and philanthropist Sybil Mervis; DACC Foundation Executive Director Tonya Hill; and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman.

DANVILLE – Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman was the special guest at Friday morning’s opening ceremony for the Bicentennial of Illinois Law traveling exhibit. The exhibit will be on display at Danville Area Community College until the end of the month.

For the next two weeks, the Bicentennial of Illinois Law traveling exhibit will be open to the public for viewing between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the DACC Library at the Clock Tower Center until Friday, Sept. 27.

The traveling exhibit is sponsored by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission to commemorate 200 years of the Illinois judicial branch.

“I think it’s fabulous that it’s in Danville,” Justice Garman said as she looked over the exhibit consisting of three informational towers.

“(DACC President) Dr. Nacco spearheaded the idea of bringing it here, but I suggested it might be a fine idea,” she said. “I’m excited it’s here.”

In Nacco’s opening remarks, he called Justice Garman “one of our gems of the community” and said she contacted him about trying to get the exhibit to make a stop in Danville.

“She called me up and said these other colleges and community colleges had the exhibit and, darn it, DACC needs to have this, too,” he recalled.

Justice Garman returned the compliment, calling Nacco “a great supporter of DACC” and that “he has really downplayed his efforts” in bringing the exhibit to the local campus.

She said the three informational towers highlight three aspects of Illinois law including its 200-year history, famous lawyers and landmark cases, and the structure of the court system.

Justice Garman lamented that some people “know more about the Three Stooges than the three branches of government.”

“I hope it will educate and inspire people while it’s here,” she said of the exhibit.

She said DACC’s values of adaptability, excellence and integrity are the same values as the Illinois court system.

“The Supreme Court is committed to adapt to the needs of the state … and provide access to justice for low- and middle-class families,” she said.

“The Supreme Court is committed to excellence and guaranteeing equal protection under the law for all citizens for generations to come,” she added.

Justice Garman captured the attention of the audience, especially the women in the room, with her story of Myra Bradwell, the first woman to be admitted to the Illinois bar. Although Bradwell had passed the bar exam in 1869, she was denied admittance to the Illinois bar multiple times, even after appealing the ruling to the Illinois and U.S. Supreme Courts.

“Because she was married, she was deemed legally incompetent,” Justice Garman said.

Finally, in 1890, the Illinois Supreme Court granted Bradwell her license to practice law.

Justice Garman is only the second woman in Illinois history to have served as Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, having completed that three-year term in 2016. She is now one of three female justices to serve on the state’s highest court.

Justice Garman told the crowd that she is honored to have served with Mary Ann McMorrow, who was the first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court as well as to serve as its chief.

As an example of the value of integrity, Justice Garman closed with a quote from the state’s most famous lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.

“Resolve to be honest at all events and, if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer,” she quoted.

“I hope this exhibit fosters greater understand of the court system and deep appreciation for those who uphold the law,” she added.

The interesting and educational exhibit features prominent lawyers and cases in Illinois history, information about how the court system operates, and a general history of the judiciary’s first 200 years of existence.

Cases featured include Block v. City of Chicago, which concerned the first movie censorship laws, and lawyers featured include Ferdinand Barnett, one of the first African American attorneys licensed in Illinois.

The exhibit also highlights the important role that the judicial branch has in upholding the rule of law, providing a forum for dispute resolution, and interpreting the law.

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