Fall 2002

Section Celebrates, Defends Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
at 2002 ABA Annual Meeting

The 11 th annual Thurgood Marshall Award Dinner, adoption of two Section-proposed reports with recommendation by the House of Delegates, and several Section-sponsored CLE programs highlighted Section activity at the 2002 ABA Annual Meeting in Washington, D. C., in August.

Former U. S. Rep. Don Edwards of California (D-16th Dist.) received the 11 th annual Thurgood Marshall Award in recognition of his career-long commitment to advancing civil rights and civil liberties while a member of the U. S. House of Representatives and the Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Considered the "dean" of civil rights and civil liberties in the Congress for more than 30 years, from the start of his legislative career Edwards focused on enforcement of individual rights protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He supported numerous bills to preserve or enhance constitutional rights, including the 1971 Equal Rights Amendment and legislation to preserve citizens’ right to seek habeas corpus review in federal courts.

"We are proud to acknowledge the lifelong work of Congressman Edwards," said Thurgood Marshall Award Committee Chair Georgina C. Verdugo. "As a legislator, he tirelessly pursued equality and preservation of the rights of all Americans. In an era of partisan politics, Congressman Edwards stands out as a leader and role model, demonstrating the intelligence, integrity, and courage that Americans can be proud of in the best of the nation’s lawmakers."

Roger Wilkins, the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American Culture at the George Mason University in Virginia and well known civil rights leader, journalist, and author, gave the keynote address. Among the many laudatory comments he made about Mr. Edwards, Wilkins was most emphatic when remembering "the decency with which I was treated as a black public official in the 1960’s when testifying in front of Chairman Edwards, in contrast to the reception I received from a variety of other committee chairmen in both the U. S. House and Senate."

The dinner also featured the official unveiling of a U. S. Postal Service stamp honoring Justice Marshall’s career. The late Justice’s widow, Cecelia Marshall, and his son, John, attended the dinner and performed the unveiling.

The ABA House of Delegates, meanwhile, adopted Section-sponsored resolutions aimed at safeguarding freedom of scientific inquiry and protecting against discrimination in the distribution of crime victim compensation and assistance funds.

Recent advances in stem cell research, which hold tremendous promise for therapeutic use, have raised challenging social, political, and legal issues. Individuals and organizations throughout the country are wrestling with questions involving the status of embryos, justification for research involving embryos, perceived tension between scientific progress and religious beliefs, and appropriate boundaries for our potential ability to control the development of our species genetically. Debate has been particularly intense about research involving stem cells derived from embryos created through cell nucleus transfer, and a number of state and federal laws and regulations to control or prohibit this research have been adopted or proposed.

Out of concern for the restrictive precedent such initiatives would set for the long-established human right of freedom of scientific inquiry generally, the Section developed a policy statement that aims to ensure that any governmental action that would impact cell nucleus transfer research reflect due care for the appropriate preservation of freedom of scientific inquiry. It expresses not only the American Bar Association’s support for the freedom to appropriately pursue scientific knowledge, but as a direct corollary to that principle, opposes governmental action that would prohibit scientific research conducted for therapeutic purposes and in conformity with accepted scientific research safeguards.

The other Section-sponsored resolution, which arose from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, addresses discrimination against unmarried partners, including gays and lesbians, in the distribution of crime victims compensation and assistance funds. The tremendous outpouring of monetary donations to such funds by the American public following the attacks was intended to help survivors of the victims in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D. C., cope with financial and other difficulties that may have resulted from the deaths of their loved ones. The House of Delegates approved the Section’s proposed resolution urging that victims’ surviving unmarried partners be equally entitled to consideration for such compensation as surviving spouses.

Both resolutions are available on the Section website at www.abanet.org/irr.

The Section also sponsored six Annual Meeting programs covering a broad range of civil and human rights and civil liberties-related legal issues. "The International Women’s Rights Treaty: Rallying for Ratification," consisted of a panel of distinguished policy leaders assembled to discuss the importance of United States ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is pending in the U. S. Senate (see article, page___). "Homeland Security and Civil Liberties in the Balance: Detentions of Foreign Nationals and Other DOJ Immigration Practices Post 9/11," brought together an expert panel to review the array of recent court decisions and assess the impact of the Department of Justice’s actions in traditional civil liberties as well as their effectiveness in stemming domestic terrorism.

Other Section-sponsored programs included:

  • "At the Borders of Love: Gay and Lesbian Immigration and Asylum Issues" exploring the impact of the Permanent Partners Immigration Act upon gays and lesbians and their partners who have immigration or asylum claims, and providing practical suggestions for lawyers representing such clients;
  • "Mental Illness and the Death Penalty: Can Capital Punishment for the Seriously Mentally Ill Be Justified?";
  • "Oregon v. Ashcroft: Death with Dignity or Drug Abuse?", examining whether enforcement of federal drug laws to bar physician-assisted suicide imperils the human dignity of Oregon’s citizens; and
  • "Title IX: Why You Should Expand Your Litigation Practice into This Under-served Area of Law."

For materials offered at these programs, please contact the Section office at 202/662-1030.

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