The celebration of Juneteenth this year felt different in light of social events sweeping the country. For those of you unfamiliar, Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in America, as the Union army finally reached the slave state of Texas and announced the end of the Civil War there on June 19, 1865. There has been a groundswell of calls for the date to be federally recognized as a national holiday.
And while I wholeheartedly support the move, our job as reference librarians is to give you the tools to make the case, which I’m sure you’d do a better job of anyway! The research process always starts with asking the right questions. In this case, things like… What is the mechanism for declaring a national holiday? And how would you even go about making the case for inclusion of this date?
As with any research project, it’s always best not to reinvent the wheel. A great resource when researching any topic that may be of interest to Congress are the reports of the Congressional Research Service. Considered Congress’ think tank, the reports are now freely available on the web, while also being available on other databases like Hein. And in fact they do have a fact sheet drafted that captures previous efforts to mark the day, both state and federal. Certainly invaluable information…
But it doesn’t make note of where federal holidays are recorded in the law. To do that, you could turn to a commercial database, like Westlaw, and use their index of the United States Code to land on 5 USC § 6103 that lists all the public holidays. Clicking on the history tab and looking at the Editor’s and Revisor’s Notes gives you the ability to quickly see amendments to the law and what changes were made. At a glance you can tell that the last holiday to be added was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 with the passage of Public L. 98-144. With the specific public act in hand, you could then go to a database like ProQuest Legislative Insight and see all the conversations that took place in its passage. In this way, you can look to the past to make a case for the future.
So please take these tools that you’re learning in law school and make a brighter future for us all!