Our History

The Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, formerly the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR), was created in the infancy of America's Civil Rights movement by some of the civil rights champions of the time, future ABA Presidents Bernard G. Segal and Jerome Shestack among them. The charter Section members included Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan and future Section Chairs Abner Mikva, Peter Langrock and Father Robert Drinan. At the ABA's Montreal Annual Meeting in 1966, the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities was born. 

Over the next 50 years, the Section led the ABA and the profession to review and address the great legal and public policy issues of the day. Those efforts always encompassed issues of civil rights and racial equality. But they grew beyond them to address: gender equality; the death penalty; discrimination based upon sexual orientation; responses to health epidemics and bioethical concerns; free speech and expression; the right to informational privacy; disability access; international human rights; and many other impo1iant issues. 

The efforts of IRR founded and assisted in founding enduring ABA projects and entities, including: the Center for Human Rights; the Death Penalty Due Process Review Project; the Death Penalty Representation Project; the HIV/AIDS Impact Project (formerly the AIDS Coordinating Committee); the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty; the Bill of Rights Project; the International Human Rights Trial Observer Project; and the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, among many others. Today, IRR remains the only ABA entity which houses committees devoted to Native American concerns, and the right to religious expression and accommodation without discrimination. 

The Section has authored and obtained passage of nearly 400 policy resolutions in the House of Delegates, dealing with the broad range of constitutional, civil rights, international human rights, anti-discrimination and social justice issues. It has also sponsored over 50 Amicus Curiae briefs on topics including the right to legal counsel in selective service matters, affirmative action, laws restricting womens' participation on juries, the right to counsel where parental rights are threatened and in post conviction proceedings, the imposition of the death penalty against minors and person of diminished capacity, discrimination against LGBT persons, among many, many others. 

The Section's activities have always been grounded in Constitutional rights and principles, but have expanded beyond that. The Section engages in robust activities driven by committees including Education, Economic Justice, Native American Concerns, Rights of Women, Elder Rights, Fair and Impartial Courts, among others, which move beyond the reasonable definition of constitutional or civil rights.