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July 01, 2006

Chair's Column

by Robert E. Stein

In this, my first Human Rights column, in the Section’s fortieth year, I am pleased that, yet again, this magazine has not shied away from careful analysis of important and difficult constitutional issues. Professor Stephen Wermiel’s introduction both makes the reasons for this clear and outlines the range of issues relating to religious freedom covered in the magazine. Taking on difficult issues in a fair and balanced way is especially important where rights relating to civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, and social justice are concerned and are under attack. It is because Human Rights consistently does this that it receives the attention that it does and continues to be the valuable resource that it is. We are grateful to the HR board of editors and its two co-chairs for making the magazine happen.

Within the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, elucidation and education is one of our goals but not the only one. As a Section that has developed many recommendations that have been approved by the ABA House of Delegates and are now ABA policy, we have a responsibility to track these issues and to provide a timely response to Congress when they are acted upon or to the media when further discussion can advance their acceptance. The articles in this and other issues of the magazine give us a wealth of material to use as part of this effort. The trick is to be sure that they—both the approved policies and HR articles— are used and not just left on the shelf to take up space. Our committees are gearing up to respond to these challenges and will work with the Government Affairs and Media Affairs Offices of the ABA to be sure that our policies and issues are given the visibility they deserve.

As a small Section, but one with a mission that transcends particular practice areas and relates to the ABA as a whole, IR&R cannot fulfill its potential if we operate alone. For that reason, we must strengthen the collegial relationships within and outside the ABA that have been forged—and develop new ones. We must find new ways to work with state, local, minority, and specialty bar association groups that work in the same areas we do. As a first step, we expect to convene a conference on April 13 and 14, 2007, to bring these groups together for a summit on civil rights, civil liberties, and social justice, to explore issues that engage us all and find ways to develop a community of interest, and to learn from one another. Many of the issues for which the ABA has adopted policies, including those relating to health and reproductive rights, sexual orientation (including immigration and same-sex marriage), the death penalty moratorium and fairness, national security, civil liberties public education, and church-state issues, are being acted upon on the state legislative level. State and local bars have experience working with these legislatures, and this experience and attendant successful practices can be shared with others so that they can be replicated when the same issues come up in other jurisdictions. We are now using these issues as a basis for the core areas that the conference will address. The sum is always greater than its parts, and by learning from one another, we all will be stronger.

These are ambitious goals, requiring help from many diverse parts of the legal profession and reflecting diverse backgrounds and outlooks. It requires newer as well as seasoned lawyers, those who work in large firms, academia, public interest firms, and not-for-profit advocacy organizations. Hopefully, all those reading HR fit into at least one of these categories. I invite each of you to become an active part of the IR&R community and to help make the period ahead productive and exciting. Please contact our staff or me, and we can suggest ways for you to get involved.

Bob Stein
[email protected]

As published in Human Rights, Summer 2006, Vol. 33, No. 3.

Robert E. Stein

Robert E. Stein is chair of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities from 2006-2007.