The pandemic has placed a great strain on all of us. Many of the members of the Judicial Division have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Our freedom to attend public gatherings and to meet with friends continues to be impacted by concerns of the Delta variant as it breaks through the protection of vaccines. Of greater concern is that vaccinations are not available to children twelve or younger and the pandemic has begun to take the lives of far more children. Depression and alcoholism have increased during the pandemic. And most tragically, child and spousal abuse has increased as well. The pandemic is front and center of our political discourse – with some scorning mask mandates and others angered by those who choose not to be vaccinated.
The strain of the pandemic has not only impacted each of us as individuals – it has taken a significant toll on organizations such as the American Bar Association and the Judicial Division. While Justice Lang Miers was Chair, the work of the Judicial Division took a dramatic turn following the 2020 Midyear Meeting when live meetings were curtailed. This derailed the Bench & Bar Academies that she envisioned as a way for our Division to connect with judges and attorneys on a regional basis. Thereafter, Judge Childs faced an entire year as Chair with no live meetings of the Division. Despite this, both focused on responding to the needs of our courts and judges. The Division was actively involved in the ABA’s pandemic task force. Additionally, the Division continued its outstanding programing through virtual meetings and presentations.
Now, I become the third person to Chair the Judicial Division during the pandemic. We are all beleaguered by the pandemic and desperately hope to have the pandemic in our rearview mirror as soon as possible. We must, however, fight the inevitable lethargy from enduring the pandemic for so long.
The list of challenges that our courts and judges face demands action – not complacency. Our plan for the coming year is to continue what the Judicial Division has done so well – programming for judges and practicing attorneys (including wellness programs), emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in our Courts, evaluating how to make our courts more efficient, and educating the public about the role of courts and the rule of law.
In addition to building upon the current work of the Division, I challenge the Division to take on four specific priorities.
First, when it is safe to do so, we will work on building a Habitat House in an economically-disadvantaged area. This two-day build will allow our members to once again come together in person and will allow us to make a real and tangible difference for others in need. This effort of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee will involve discussions about homelessness, poverty, diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as issues that the local community faces. I can think of no better way that we as a Division can help others who have suffered so greatly from the pandemic.
Second, the threats and physical attacks on judges over the last three decades must be addressed by the Judicial Division and the ABA. We must do all that is within our power to ensure that the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2021, or similar legislation, is enacted by Congress. We must also educate our judges about how to recognize, identify and avoid threats to their personal security.
Third, we must address issues of judicial independence – particularly within administrative adjudications. This includes the continued evaluation of the extent to which a federal centralized administrative agency may be an appropriate solution to this important issue.
Fourth, many areas of the country have greatly benefitted from specialized problem-solving courts like family, veterans, and drug-addiction courts. Many states have already established such courts – while other have not. The Judicial Division should take the lead on providing a roadmap for establishing such courts for states that may decide to pursue such an initiative.
I ask that you become an active participant in the work of the Judicial Division over the coming bar year. The challenges that the judiciary faces are far to grave for any of us to become complacent – even in the midst of the pandemic.
The work of the Judicial Division over the coming year will require all of us to be In Service of Our Courts, Our Judges and the Fight for Global Justice. Thank you for accepting the call to improve our courts and to protect our judges. I look forward to working with you over the coming year.
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay committed to serving justice.