Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Piper D. Griffin offered a dash of advice about life — and more — as she served as keynote speaker recently during Grambling State University’s annual Constitution Day Observance at T.H. Harris Auditorium.
The theme of the observance was “Life, Liberty, Freedom and Prosperity,” all words Griffin would touch on during her talk.
Griffin started out by describing her role in the courts, saying a friend of hers described it as “seven white men and Piper Griffin” as she spoke of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“Just so you understand where I work,” Griffin said. “I work in a place where we’re not present, though our voice I hope can be heard. So, you can understand how important today was to me. Today is what we call Conference Day. Our court meets every Tuesday and Wednesday.
“And so rather than meeting with the other six members of our court, I made the decision that it was more important that I accept this invitation and that I have an opportunity to visit with you here at Grambling, hopefully to say a few words to encourage you freshmen, faculty, staff and upperclassmen who are present to understand the importance not only of this day, but of the document which it commemorates.”
She then talked about the Constitution itself.
“In its original form, that document did not recognize most of us here today as men, or as women,” Griffin said. “We did not have the right to own property, we did not have the right to vote. However, over the past 234 years or so, our Constitution has grown to encompass those rights. It has weathered many ups and downs. We have seen foreign wars, as well as domestic wars. We have seen economic good times and economic bad times.
“We have seen terrorist attacks. We have seen advancements in science and technology. And through it all, our Constitution has managed to stand and to weather those trying times. It has done so with necessary amendments, necessary court interpretations and has truly come to encompass your theme by embracing life, liberty, freedom and prosperity for all.”
Griffin said that while civics classes teach that the executive and legislative branches of our government are places of politics and advocacy, the judicial branch is supposed to be the place where politics and advocacy are supposed to take a back seat and where rights and the process of justice was to prevail.
“It is meant to check the president and balance the legislature,”’ Griffin said. “Your theme here today — Life, Liberty, Freedom and Prosperity — is clearly taken from our Declaration of Independence, an addendum to the Constitution. It’s not part of that original document. It was written later to further expound on the rights that were intended by the founders.
Griffin told the crowd she wanted to look deep into the event’s theme, beginning with the word life.
“When you go to a funeral and look at the program — you see the date of birth, that dash, and the date of death,” Griffin said. “Life is that dash. Life is like a canvas. It’s what you design it to be. It is the job you choose to do during the dash. It’s the family you choose to have and/or not have dash. It’s the relationships that you live, during the dash. It’s the causes that you fight for during the dash.
“And I would suggest to you that dash is different for all of us, both individually and collectively.”
Then Griffin moved on to another observance theme word — liberty.
“Freedom is the power to act, or think, without restraint,” Griffin said. “The idea of freedom is a state of being free within a society, freedom to come and go as you would like without restrictions and without being subjected to certain political constraints. Freedom, similar to liberty, is the power to act, speak or think or act without restraint or hindrance.
“Thanks to liberty and freedom, we get to make choices. We get to make choices of how we live. We get to choose how we’ll carry on that life’s dream. To that end I submit to you that under our Constitution, life, liberty and freedom are intertwined.”
But while life is about the choices we make, it also has limits in a civil context, Griffin said.
“Those limits have been defined throughout society and laws that we see both in the criminal context and the civil context,” Griffin said. “I don’t get to live my life in a way that it harms you and you don’t get to live your life in such a way that it harms me.
“I don’t get to live my life in such a way where I think I have the right to ignore laws and fabric of society that have been designed to protect the community at large.”
Griffin then reached the event’s final theme word — prosperity.
“Prosperity can be said to mean the right to flourish in health, wealth and material belongings,” Griffin said. “In his famous speech given on July 4, 1952, Frederic Douglas highlighted the disparity between the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence enjoyed by some and the struggles faced by others.”
She then talked of how, more than 100 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of those still continuing disparities despite the passage of time and the still-elusive nature of dreams deferred and equality for all.
“And though much has changed, much, unfortunately, continues to be the same,” Griffin said.
She said that here today in 2023, she believes our nation stands at a crossroads.
“Many of the battles that have been fought and we thought won, are now being fought again,” Griffin said. “It is a crossroads that challenges the true essence of the Constitution as envisioned by the founders and as envisioned by those leaders who worked so diligently, who gave life, who gave blood, and who gave sweat and all of their intelligence to amend and enhance the protections within the Constitution and all that came after.”
And she told the crowd that work continues today.
“Today we celebrate life, freedown, freedom and prosperity,” Griffin said. “I challenge you … I implore you — I’m on the downside. I’m serving now but one of you will have to take my place. I need you to be prepared.
“I need you to know the things you need to know. I need you to understand the Constitution. I need you to understand the rights, I need you to understand the issues. I challenge you that today, you decide about the Constitution, that you have a right to life, you have a right to live and freedom. And you have a right to work toward prosperity for the things you want in health, the things you want in wealth and the things you want for your families and your future.”