Fall 2003

Section Director to Leave ABA

Penny Wakefield, Director of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities since 1991, is leaving the ABA in mid-January 2004.

"I am very proud of all the Section's accomplishments during my tenure here," Penny said. "From our work on the death penalty to the Bill of Rights to international human rights, we have helped make the ABA more visible on important issues and, because of that collective lawyers' voice, we have helped bring about change in significant ways. It has been very rewarding to work with so many skilled and dedicated staff and members in these efforts."

Before coming to the ABA, Penny had worked on public policy and legislation in the criminal justice and environmental law fields and had served on the Arlington County (Va.) Women's Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Human Rights Commission. She also just had completed a year as president of a national membership association. "The breadth of IRR's work offered a rare opportunity to continue with familiar issues and experiences while also taking on new challenges," she said. "The job's potential has been fulfilled tenfold."

Penny said that it is very difficult to choose the most memorable of the Section's many activities and achievements over the last 12 1/2 years, but two that no one can forget are Justice Marshall's acceptance of the inaugural Thurgood Marshall Award in 1992 and the Section's call for a nationwide death penalty moratorium in 1997.

"When Justice Marshall was a young lawyer, the ABA barred African Americans from membership, so his accepting the award personally decades later was a very moving experience for everyone at the award dinner," she said. "Justice Marshall spoke about the need to let go, but also to remember, as we move ahead. He reminded us that our job as lawyers protecting civil and human rights is not done."

Regarding the moratorium, "We prepared long and carefully for that House vote, and we thought that it could succeed, but we were not prepared at all for what came next," she said. "The response was electric. Unprecedented press coverage of an ABA policy. Messages from around the world. But the hard work of educating lawyers and the public about the need for the moratorium had just begun. In 2000, when Illinois' governor declared a moratorium in his state, we began to feel that we were being heard. Now, seven years later, the moratorium effort that we initiated has become a national movement."

While planning to take early retirement from the ABA, Penny also plans to continue her involvement in civil/human rights and civil liberties work.

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