Letter from Chair, Bob Stein
In my last Chair’s letter for the IRR News Report, I want to reflect personally on some of the things that the year has meant to me. I spent this year’s Memorial Day weekend visiting children and grandchildren in Maine, which provided me with the opportunity to contemplate whether our efforts to advance the causes of civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, and social justice have made the country and the world a safer and more accepting place for ourselves and the next generations. The simple answer is that we have made great progress, but still have work to do.
This year, I’m proud to report that the Section has accomplished many things, including:
• This summer we will issue a 40 th Anniversary issue of Human Rights with articles reflecting on our history and progress by past and present Section leaders;
• Through a planning conference in January, we helped to create a new independent organization of law students with disabilities. More than 40 law students met, decided to move ahead, selected leaders and developed a mission statement. Their next meeting, scheduled for the fall, will take the group further along towards its launching;
• We recognized that as a Section we could be more effective if we shared our expertise with similar groups from state and local bar associations and took advantage of what those groups have learned in their pursuit of similar goals. In May, we convened, Effecting Change: A Summit on Civil Rights, Civil Liberties and Social Justice, to begin this process. Co-sponsored with the American Constitution Society, we spent two days learning from one another and developing networks, and are committed to continue the process on a regular basis;
• We sponsored a policy that was approved by the ABA House of Delegates that amended the organization’s definition of diversity to include persons of differing sexual orientation and gender identity and will work within the ABA to implement that policy;
• We set up a new Section coordinating committee to address the thorny issues of national security and civil liberties. The Committee’s initial product, a proposed recommendation on the use of state secrets evidence in civil trials, will be taken up by the House of Delegates in August. And, to better understand a variety of perspectives on some of these issues we are co-sponsoring a debate with the Federalist Society at the Annual Meeting to explore where we disagree and where we agree on these matters; and
• We sought to put the Section on firmer footing by increasing our membership through partnerships with other sections to encourage ABA members to make IRR their “second section.”
While we achieved all this and more, it is important to forge ahead with the many challenges we continue to face. We live in a country in which the government has often placed politics or the pursuit of specific policies above the rule of law. How has or how should both the Section and the greater ABA deal with these events?
We should do what we can while striving to fulfill the mission of the Section to advance civil rights, civil liberties and social justice. This is important, not just for us, but because of the principle of generativity, described by psychologist Eric Erickson as the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation. This gives a purpose and a time frame to our work that goes far beyond the year that a particular person is Chair. Rather, it requires us to take a longer-term view of what we are trying to accomplish, why we are trying to accomplish it, and for whom.
We have our work cut out for us. We have seen an erosion of rights where international agreements to which the United States is a party are called “quaint.” This has led the federal government to ignore these agreements as well as to disregard the historic right of habeas corpus. Moreover, the President continues to act to override the actions and intentions of Congress simply by issuing signing statements.
There are some who believe that civil liberties should give way to the concern for national security. About 250 years ago, Benjamin Franklin stated that “[t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And it is as true today as it was then. As an independent professional organization committed to the rule of law and the relevance of established principles of constitutional interpretation, the ABA must continue to argue its case in and through the states as well as nationally. If the federal government as well as the ABA is to argue internationally that the rule of law has a place in all societies, then we need to be sure that our own house is in order. IRR should not retreat from its responsibility to take on the complex and difficult legal issues that others shun.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to chair the Section this year. I have learned a great deal from so many of you and I firmly believe in the importance of IRR’s work within the ABA. In the Section’s 40 year history, we have worked to change the dialogue within the legal profession and society in general about issues of equality for persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, and persons with differing sexual orientation. We have encouraged the Association to take positions that once were considered controversial and now are mainstream. I believe that the Section is poised to move on to even greater successes.
The Section’s leadership over the next few years of Robyn Shapiro, Neal Sonnett and Gloria Browne-Marshall will undoubtedly have their own ideas of how to advance our agenda. Our staff will continue to offer both substantive advice and support. We will continue to need the active participation from our Council members and Committee leaders who give so generously of their time and ideas. We also need to gain more active participation of our broader membership who deeply believe in the Section’s mission. Only with the support and efforts of all can our potential be more fully realized.
—Bob Stein, June 2007