Father Robert Drinan, Champion of Human Rights and Former Chair of Section, Dies
On Jan. 28, 2007, the world lost a hero. Rev. Robert F. Drinan, S.J., a world renowned activist for human rights, a Jesuit who was the first Roman Catholic priest elected as a voting member of Congress, and former Chair and friend of the Section, passed away at age 86.
Father Drinan's career took him to the halls of Congress, but those who knew him remember him most for his dedication to human rights, commitment to the disadvantaged, and great sense of humor.
Within the American Bar Association, Father Drinan was revered. In 2004, he received the Association’s highest honor when he was awarded the ABA Medal for exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American jurisprudence. In announcing the selection, then-ABA President Dennis Archer remarked, “In an amazing career that has spanned more than half a century, Father Drinan has never faltered in his extraordinary humanitarian efforts and support for justice under the law. He has demonstrated to lawyers what it means to be committed to public service and to countless law students what is embodied in the highest dedication to ethical, moral legal practice.”
A founding member of the Individual Rights Section, Father Drinan served as Section Chair in 1990-91 and as Section Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates from 1993 to 1996. As Section Delegate, he and a group of Section leaders led the effort to establish ABA policy calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. During remarks to the ABA House of Delegates in February 2007, former ABA President Michael Greco said, “the Death Penalty Moratorium resolution originated with Bob Drinan. If he had had his way, the resolution would have been to abolish the death penalty. After long discussions, those of us involved in the effort persuaded him that the ABA’s support of a moratorium, importantly, would enable the states to evaluate the fairness of their administration of the death penalty to ensure that life is not taken without justice first being done. He reluctantly agreed, but expressed his hope that the death penalty would be abolished in our lifetime.”
Within the legal profession and beyond, Father Drinan was recognized as a dedicated and principled former Member of Congress, a widely published legal scholar and author, a beloved law professor, and a respected human rights advocate repeatedly called upon in times of crisis by United States presidents and diplomats.
In October 2006, Georgetown University Law School established an endowed chair in human rights in his name. At the ceremony, Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh called Drinan “a father in more senses than one. He is the father of a remarkable revolution — a human rights revolution — and a person of simple, radical faith.”
During Drinan’s memorial service in Boston, Koh said, “What made him special was his unique ability to fight fiercely every day for human rights, while just as fiercely loving every human being he met,” Koh said. “Like Jesus, he instinctively saw every scene from the perspective of the smallest and meekest person in the room.”