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February 18, 2015

2015 Robert F. Drinan Award

Walter H. White Jr. to Receive
2015 Father Drinan Award

The Section honored Section Delegate and former Section Chair Walter H. White Jr. with the 2015 Robert F. Drinan Award for Distinguished Service.

The award, named in honor of the late Father Robert F. Drinan, a former member of Congress who chaired the Section in 1990-91, recognizes individuals whose sustained and extraordinary commitment to the Section has advanced its mission of providing leadership to the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

Walter has been an active member of the Section for decades. His first major immersion into IRR involved the development of the ABA’s relationship with the Association of Soviet Lawyers. Walter worked on Wey Lundquist’s Section of Litigation initiative to organize high-level Soviet exchanges with lawyers and judges after Gorbachev’s perestroika, which ultimately led to an internship program in the U.S. for Soviet lawyers sponsored by the Soros Foundation and co-sponsored by IRR and the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD). These efforts were ground-breaking in that the Soviet lawyers were admitted without regard to political standing in the USSR and subsequently resulted in giving impetus to some of the most dynamic lawyers in Russia today. These efforts also led to IRR participation in USAID-sponsored American Center for International Leadership (ACIL) events in Philadelphia, Washington, Moscow, Sochi, Kiev and Yerevan; resulted in high-level investigations into the situation in Nakhchivan and Nagorno Karabakh; and, facilitated an ABA IRR/YLD-sponsored election observation team going to Soviet Georgia in October of 1990 to observe the first multi-party elections on Soviet soil. Walter wrote a book about the Georgian election. He also led a delegation of IRR members to the USSR to witness the lowering of the flag of the Soviet Union and the raising of the Russian flag in the Kremlin, marking the end of the Soviet Union.

As chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division in the 1990s, Walter was a staunch IRR ally and a reliable delegate who worked on a variety of issues including anti-discrimination in clubs, the pro-choice resolutions, military tribunals, and Guantanamo Bay resolutions. He has worked on almost every major resolution that IRR has proposed since the 1990s.

When Walter became IRR chair, he devoted his efforts to sustainability. Walter founded the IRR support fund (the first in the ABA), restructured Section finances, and re-energized a variety of the Section’s substantive committees. During his tenure, IRR and the ABA Judicial Division held the first major CLE program on transgender legal issues and Walter began the initiative that eventually led to the founding of the ABA Center for Human Rights. Walter also spearheaded the publication of the Section’s written history, “Advancing the Law: Protecting the Individual, Defending Human Dignity – A Brief History of the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.”

The Drinan Award was presented to Walter at a reception on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston, Texas.

Walter H. White Jr. Receives
2015 Father Drinan Award
at Midyear Meeting in Houston

Section Chair Mark I. Schickman presents Walter H. White Jr. with the 2015 Father Drinan Award.

The following is an excerpt from Walter's remarks during the reception in his honor at the 2015 ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston, Texas:

"Since its inception, this Section has sought to help ensure the fundamental precepts that the Rule of Law should mean that the law is fair for everyone. It is a very basic concept that is very hard to achieve. In my view, every member of the Association has an obligation to be a member of the Section. In my view, every member of the Association should make a contribution to the Section. I know that my saying this, will not make it happen. But I also know that we have driven change in this Association and that has driven positive change in our society. This has not taken a village. It has taken a profession. It has also taken the dedication of courageous individuals across the country and the world and like-minded people who lend their support.

Like most of you, I advocate for clients in accordance with their needs.  I serve in the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities to achieve justice.  Should we, as lawyers in the ABA, choose to continue as a profession, and should we choose to believe that everyone is entitled to or endowed with the rights guaranteed by our Constitution and the laws of these United States, we will continue to make progress toward that goal.  Should we not continue that commitment to Justice, and become, or act as, a trade association, then what we currently consider fundamental rights and privileges will be retained by the few at the expense of the many."