THE STATUTE OF LIBERTY JULY 3, 1986
Once a month our Court holds special naturalization
proceedings to swear in about 50 or more new citiz-ens.
some other neighboring United States District Courts, our
proceedings are bir more elaborate.
chosen by the Bar Association, the Marine Color Guard advances
the Colors, the presiding Judge makes some remarks, and there is
a coffee reception afterwards under the auspices of the Daughters
of the American Revolution and other patriotic groups. It is
simple but impressive.
proceedings at the Archives in conjunction with anniversaries of
hisrorical events. Once when I presided, Ross Perot gave a very
moving talk, and all four pages of the Constitution and the Magna
Carta were on display.
There is a special speaker
On occasion we have held these special
1986 was the year to celebrate the one hundredth
anniversary of the Statute of Liberty and elaborate festivities
were scheduled in New York City stretching over several days
during the July 4th holiday, with everything from the magnificent
tall ships to Elvis Pressley “look-alikes.” Since I happened to
be the Morions Judge in early July, I became unexpectedly
embroiled in the unusual series of events summarized below.
It all started with a March 12, 1986, letter from the
Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of
Justice, the body responsible nationwide for processing
applications for citizenship, whose duty it is to make certain
that all technical formalities have been satisfied. The letter
advised that on July 3rd there would be a national swearing-in
ceremony to be broadcast by ABC television from Ellis Island,
with similar judicial ceremonies tied in by satellite from Los
Angeles; St. Louis: Washington, D. C.; Miami: Independence,
Missouri; Boston and Philadelphia. The letter stated that “The
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is scheduled to swear in
applicants at each hearing via the televised hookup.” “The TV
production will be in good taste and will respect the dignity of
Court proceedings. President Reagan and the Chief Justice would
not be involved had they not exacted such a promise from Wolper
[:the producer]. ”
We heard that as many as 15,000 new citizens would be
taking the oath from the Chief Justice. It was suggested we hold
our normal full naturalization ceremony on the steps of the
Jefferson Memorial and that ABC would take shots of our ceremony
during the televised portion emanating from New York. This
seemed like a good idea, considering the assurances and high
sponsorship, but details were lacking and many praccical
questions that arose could not be answered when we asked
Unfortunately, there was nobody in charge. Wolper, a
Hollywood producer, was in charge, but all detailed- arrangements
were in the hands of AEC. Uncertainties continued. Finally a
meeting was set up at the Jefferson Memorial. I went with a
Deputy U. S. Marshal and court personnel. Park Service,
Naturalization, and Bar Association people were on hand. We were
told the program should be so arranged that the Chief Justice
would give the oath by TV monitor precisely at 9:07 p.m., but no
thought had been given to the formal court proceedings that, by
law, had to precede this event. After much discussion the
various functionaries took heed of this fact and tentative
arrangements were made. We needed at least 125 chairs, tables,
parking spaces, a rainy day alternative because there was no
shelter, and it looked as though the normal tourist traffic could
not be held back. Still no one was in charge. With the aid of
the Park Service and the Bar Association, some of these gaps were
filled but the Naturalization and Immigration people offered no
help and we broke up with little nailed down.
I went of€ to Maine the middle of June for a week ,
thinking that everything might nonetheless fall into place. When
I returned I found that ABC had finally supplied more details
about its plans.
sing two songs after taking the oath — America the Beautiful and
This is My Country — and immediately after the oath was given by
the Chief Justice a commercial would be televised during the
two-and-one-half minute lull when the Chief Justice would fly by
helicopter from Ellis Island to join the President on Governor’s
Island. I was told that when the Court staff objected to the
songs, pointing out it would be dark and the group might not know
the words, ABC confidenrly had replied they would “dub in“ sound
and “pan” from a distance. In other words, they would fake it if
need be! It had further developed that the Chief Justice’s oath
would be purely symbolic and wirhout legal effect because he
could only administer a binding oath to those in his immediate
presence on Ellis Island. I was very troubled.
Someone had told them the new citizens would
This all seemed most unfortunate. I couldn’t believe the
Chief Justice was aware of what was going on and I could not
allow show business gimmicks to take over the court proceedings.
I reported my information and concerns to lhe Chief Justice’s
personal staff and public relations people, made several calls,
but never heard a word. The Supreme Court was still in session,
the Chief Justice had just resigned, and impeachmeht proceedings
involving a judge of another Circuit had arisen. These and other
matters naturally had higher priority. I simply couldn’t get
After waiting a week I told Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson I 1′
thought our participation should be dropped. A few telephone
calls indicted that some judges in other cities chosen to be
involved in the affair were becoming concerned and one had
already cancelled, saying “the Courts are not in the
We decided to cancel and I wrote the Immigration and
Naturalization Service saying I felt arrangements were not in
good taste, as promised, and that we were not going along because
the Court proceedings were being turned inco a pageant over which
1 had no control. Because various newspaper reporters, rival
broadcasters and some members of the public had been asking
questions about out court’s program and some had planned to cover
or participate, we released the letter, wichout comment, to the
public and the other members of our Court.
The response was varied. ABC said it wouldn’t lose any
money, thus emphasizing its narrow focus. David Wolper, the
impresario who had directed and designed the Liberty Week-end,
however, was angry. He pleaded with me over the telephone but to
no avail, He was crude and vulgar. Soon the Commissioner of
Immigration and Naturalization, with his lawyer, met with Chief
Judge Aubrey Robinson and me for a full hour, putting on every
kind of persuasion, but we stood our ground. We assumed Wolper
had agitated someone at the White House. False rumors floated
around that I had been disciplined by the Chief Justice and was
changing my mind and it was apparent that Wolper was pulling
every string. This increased the publicity until this rather
simple decision became a national news event kicked off by a
front page story in the New York Times on June 28, 1986, headed
“Judge Citing Commercials, Drops TV Citizenship Oath. ” This was
followed by another piece in July 4, 1986, headed “Judge Gesell
Has it His Way, Without TV.” The telephones rang off the hook. I
must have had a dozen requests for interviews on talk shows and
the press built things up in their usual fashion.
I avoided gecting involved in any way and turned to
arranging our own program €or 4:OO p.m. on July 3, in the
Ceremonial Courtroom at the Courthouse. The Immigration and
Naturalization people remained unresponsive and our own people
had to write or telephone many prospective new citizens to be
sure all were aware of the change of plans for fear belated
written notices fpom Immigration and some of their half-hearted
calls might be insufficient.
Immediately I had my own TV problem. While the federal
courts have strict rules against TV or radio or photographers in
Court, ceremonial occasions may nonetheless be opened to these
media in the discretion of the presiding judge. ABC had
negotiated an exclusive with Wolper for Liberty Week-end and NBC
and CBS were mad. They asked to have their cameras at our
courthouse. Public TV and radio, Time Magazine and others also
wanted to cover. ~y this time there appeared to be considerable
interest in what a normal naturalization ceremony was like and I
thought if the public could see and hear what we were going to do
the contrast with the artificiality of New York would make a
point. Accordingly, I opened the proceedings to the media with
the following strictures.
(1) No commercials to interrupt proceedings would be
(2) Only one stationary TV camera would be allowed
(3) No lights in eyes of audience or Court.
(4) Two still photographers to remain stationery and
(5) One small radio microphone.
The press fully cooperated in every way. There was no
disturbance or intrusion. The 99 new citizens and many others
filled the Ceremonial Courtroom to capacity and all went
some of the new citizens. To placate the still grumbling
Naturalization people I told the new citizens they could take
After my remarks,l I went down and shook hands with
another symbolic oath from the Chief Justice on the Jefferson
Memorial steps at 9:00 p.m., but only twelve went. I didn’t.
This was our first experiment with full TV-radio mass
press coverage of a court proceeding and fortunately it went
Our decision not to allow commercials in the midst of a
court proceeding struck an unexpected response. There were a
number of favorable editorials and wide press coverage. Members
of the public call chambers indicating strong approval. The mail
was very heavy — all favorable. A few samples are excerpted
below and give the tone of the unanimous reaction that came my
way. A judge is so used to hate mail that these often thoughtful
letters carried a double significance. In a small way, perhaps,
respect for the Federal Courts was enhanced. ,
Here are samples2 from letters received:
Just a word to let you know how much your highly
unusual (in these days) move was, and how much your
personal decision as a judge, has done €or many of us.
I’m sure there are many more of us than you will hear
* * *
Thank you for understanding that becoming a naturalized
citizen of the United States is a decision made with much
thought and feeling.
Thank you for understanding that a landmark in my life
was not for the benefit of commercial television, just as
it should not have been in July, 1986.
* * *
To introduce commercialization into such ceremonies is
to reduce, if not desrroy, the dignity and significance
of the naturalization process, and the office which you
* * *
*None of these excerpts are from letters written by friends or
acquaintances, although many in this category also wrote.
I want to tell YOU how much I admire you for deciding
not to participate in a “spectacle.” As an immigrant
myself becoming a citizen is a wonderful special
spiritual experience – not to be commercialized.
Congratulations for your courage and integrity. It is
not easy to go against the “tide.”
* * *
My thanks to you for emphasizing the serious commitment
of citizenship by refusing to make it part of a
commercial entertainment. The dignity of the Court
should not be seen as part of the “fun.”
Many of us are grateful for your stand.
* * *
Please accept the gratitude of one citizen for your
action in refusing to participate in a lowering of the
dignity of ‘the U. S. courts.
I hope, with modest expectation of fulfillment, that
your refusal to join in a televised, commercial-sponsored
administering of the oath to new citizens on July 3, chat
this will be educational for some of our fellow
Americans. I fear the act may be lost in our national
hoopla. But better this than acquiescing in a demeaning
* * *
Please accept my deep thanks for your wisdom, sobriety,
dignity and good taste in withdrawing from the Statue of
Liberty gala in the manner that you did.
I am happy that there is someone like you, who refuses
to surrender our values to the show business managers of
* * *
Please accept my congratulations for your having
resisted the attempts to make your official duties a part
of the circus that will be televised next weekend.
* * *
I agree with you completely — a naturalization
ceremony is not commercial entertainment.
hucksters out of it!
Thank you for having the courage to speak out.
* * *
Perhaps your welcome quiet exercise of judicial
prerogative will help reverse an ugly and destructive
trend. In any event, it was heartening and inspiring to
find someone in public office willing to stand and say,
“No farther. “
* * *
The quiet dignity of a court room is the proper place
to officially welcome our immigrant friends. A judge
whose solemn duty is to administer the oath should not be
discarded or replaced by a voice and picture on TV. New
citizens deserve personal attention not an Orwellian 1984
* * *
May I congratulate you on the courage and the wisdom
you showed in refusing to make a naturalization
proceedingla part of a television show. You have shown
that even in this entrepreneurial age not everything is
to be measured by the bottom line.
* * f
We read of your refusal to participate in the July
Fourth parody of patriotisn and your decision to swear in
the new citizens on July 3rd. We support your decision
with enthusiasm. This country stands to lose all of its
values to commercialism. Your stand helps to slow that
* * *
It is heartening to know that one voice survives wich
the courage to speak out against the nauseating
cheapening of the high standards on which our country was
* * *
I applaud your decision to abstain from participacion
in the conkercialization of the statute of liberty.
only wish that there were more leaders of integrity and
* * *
My parents were immigrants who arrived in Boston years
ago. In their lifetime they instrucced and were sponsors
€or many “new citizens“ in the Northampton/Hadley,
Massachusetts area. The induction of these people was a
solemn and most often moving occasion. It was done with
dignity. I hope if they were alive today, they would be
saddened by the carnival atmosphere of today’s Liberty
The fact that everything went so smoothly and many
possible mistakes were avoided was due to the interest and
dedicated work, under pressure, of LeeAnn Flynn and the
naturalization team in the Clerk’ s Off ice.
Gerhard A. Gesell
Remarka at the Naturalization Ceremony
July 3, 1986, by
Gerhard A. Gcsell
United State8 District Judge
This formal court proceeding is required by law. Congress
has for many years placed upon United.States District judges like
myself the pleasant responsibility to complete the process that
brings you into full citizenship. Every month naturalization
proceedings like this are held here and elsewhere throughout the
country under prescribed rules and procedures. It is traditional
I €or the presiding judge to make a few remarks at this point to .
enphasize the sighificance of the oath you have just taken.
This nation has had a long-standing and continuing
willingness to welcome and accept men and women from all lands
who seek citizenship here. The Statute of Liberty being honored
in ceremonies today symbolizes that commitment. We have
liberalized uniform rules of naturalization, always recognizing,
as Chief Justice Marshall declared in 1824, that a naturalized
citizen becomes a member of the society, possessing all the
rights of the native citizen and standing in the view of the
Constitution on the footing of a native.” [Osborne, 22 U.S.
By accepting citizenship today you are now a part of a
great experiment in government which has relied heavily on the
talents and energies of its naturalized citizens. Indeed, if you
think about it a moment, you will realize we are a nation of
immigrants trying to make a unique experiment work — an
experiment whose ideals are so forcefully stated in the
Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution.
Our government is unlike that existing anywhere else in the
world. Ours is not a government originating in takeover and
– fraud, or one imposed by designing individuals for their personal
advantage. Nor is this a country of military dictators,
hereditary rulers or one governed by a self-chosen rich elite who
control the destiny of the poor.
Our experiment in government has a system to assure that
I the will of the people, not the will of its officials, shall
decide what is beit for the public good.
society where those who live here have the right to be left
alone, to speak out for what they believe is best for the good of
the whole, and to worship as they choose. We want to live and
work in peace, free from molestation, subject to rules set out in
laws chosen by us as the most appropriate for our general
welfare. This was and is a new, radical and daring experiment.
We seek to perfect a
Remember, this is a very young country. In many
countries of the world, people trace their heritage back hundreds
of years to relatives who lived in the same town or village and
worked in the shadows of the same ancient church or buildings.
Not so here. This is a nation of immigrants, like yourselves,
and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of
immigrants who have preceded you. As recently as when my
grandfather came here from Germany, he went to the far West and
was wounded by an Indian arrow. The land was vast, our
population waa relatively small, and the country was still
As life has become more crowded and complex, our
experiment in government demands more than ever that each
citizen get involved in the process of government to assure that
it continues to serve the best interests of us all. This is your
high responsibility that comes with the privilege of citizenship.
Do not take our form of government for granted. It will prosper
I Only if those born into citizenship and those, like you, who are
sworn into citizedship, remain vigilant and participate to keep
our form of government working. It must not be allowed to wither
because the people for whom it was created simply don’t care
There are some who mistakenly believe that the civil
liberties guaranteed by our Constitution authorize them to impose
their own private views and moral standards upon everyone else.
These people are sometimes strident, excessively demanding and
well financed. They would interfere with religious beliefs and
practices of others, or dictate what we or our children can read,
or control intimate family affairs and other aspects of
individual personal lawful conduct. We should be wary of these
people and examine carefully what underlies their vehement
assertions. Some special interests may not always be as
concerned with our welfare as they purport to be. They may well
be peddling forns of bigotry and intolerance in disguise and, if
so, they must be thwarted to assure that the basic principles
underlying our unique form of democracy are preserved.
We have moved ahead as a nation because we _ – strive €or
continue to prosper if we become smug, self-satisfied and think
only of ourselves.
to continue simply because things are that way. We have in the
past worked to correct deep-rooted societal problems such as
poverty, racism and sex discrimination. These and other
problems, such as illiteracy, housing, unemployment, concerns for
the aged and drug addiction, continue to challenge ingenuity.
This land of opportunity and promise will not
We have not been willing to allow inequities
We must not give up, but continue to learn and improve,
using the talent and experience that people like yourselves bring
when they come into our citizenship from other lands.
In short, do not be willing to leave government to
others — participate. Demand competence in your leaders. Ours
must be a vital, not a complacent, conforming, wholly
mat e r ia 1 is t ic society . You can help in some way. Seek out the good, shun the
bad. Vote, work, help others, be useful, obey the law, speak out
against intolerance, get involved. Use your minds, not your
fists. Your voice will be heard. If you do this your
citizenship will be especially valuable and will remain a
precious tool by which you can gain the good life you sought by
coming here and our radical experiment in government will
continue to flourish.