Robert E. Stein Becomes Section Chair
It has been 40 years since the founding of IRR, and as I look back over its history and leadership, I am pleased to find myself in the company of many of IRR’s former Chairs and Council members. These individuals have laid the necessary foundation upon which a lot of good can be built, and I hope to do just that. As Roy Hammer said at our spring meeting, IRR is in the best shape that he can recall in all his years working with it. That is indeed a testament to IRR’s past and current leadership, including the Executive Committee, Council and staff.
I intend to build on Immediate Past Chair Paul Igasaki’s work in reinforcing the importance of diversity. And, as a native New Yorker, I will always ask the Ed Koch question, “How’m I doin’?” This year the Goal IX Report of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, chaired by our Council member Kay Hodge, helped to answer that question by ranking IRR first among the sections of the ABA, just behind the Young Lawyers and Law Students Divisions. That confirms something we all knew anyway, that we must draw on these Divisions for our committee “pipeline,” as it is called, so that we can continue to assure a diverse future IRR leadership. We must also look at the Section’s Diversity Plan and review the ABA’s yearly Goal IX report to learn from an independent source how others view our progress and to be responsive to their conclusions.
Each chair has barely a year in this position. In one sense, we are all grateful for the brevity of the term. In another, it forces us to realize that we are part of a continuum, and in order for our projects to be fully completed, they must have the support of those who follow. Or looking at it another way, leadership must be collegial and we must work towards our goals together. I believe that we have achieved this collegiality and will be successful in achieving our goals.
One of the strengths of our section has not just been our diverse leadership, but the genuine care and concern that each of us share for our issues, not necessarily because we are of the affected group (if narrowly conceived) but because we realize the simple truth that if one of us is discriminated against, we all are lessened and are at risk.
We are in extremely difficult times, times of considerable peril as both state actors and private entities seek to impose their way of life on others. It is also a time, in our country, when the Constitution, the very basis of our democracy, is being ignored and abused under the auspice of national security. We must ask ourselves how much should, if at all, democracy and the rights of citizens inevitably suffer in a time of war and terror?
During this year and into the future, I hope the Section can accomplish a number of important goals. My top two priorities include:
The establishment of a new Coordinating Committee on National Security and Civil Liberties. Headed by Joe Onek, now of the Constitution Project, and with Neal Sonnett as an ex officio member, the committee will draw from the expertise of our existing committees and provide a focus for determining what the Section and the ABA should be doing in this critical area. Having been a committee chair and co-chair before joining the Council, I believe that the committees are where so much of the Section’s work begins and is completed. The importance of committees within the Section must be recognized, and I hope that all committee leaders will attend the Committee Conclave scheduled for Thurs., Oct. 26, the day before the Fall Council Meeting, so that we can learn together how to be more effective.
In addition, we must find new ways to work collaboratively with state, local, minority, and specialty bar association committees and other entities that have an interest and expertise in the same areas we do. As a first step, we will convene a conference in Spring 2007 to bring these groups together, to explore issues relating to human rights, civil liberties, and social justice, and to find ways to develop a community of interest and to be more effective in advancing sound policies that involve those issues. The whole is always greater than its parts and by learning from one another we all will be stronger. This civil rights and civil liberties summit hopefully will be the first of periodic gatherings hosted by IRR.
This year, the Section is my primary occupation. I will be available to anyone in the Section who has an idea, wants to help, or wants to get something off their chest about our work. As we begin our next 40 years as a section, IRR will continue to be the heart and soul of the ABA, the section involved with the issues that many of us became lawyers to address. And, we can continue, through our work, to help make a difference in the lives of those we care so much about.
I look forward to an exciting, challenging, and productive year.