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July 14, 2023 Judicial Division

JD Chair's Column

By Hon. Ernestine S. Gray (Ret.), New Orleans, LA

Greetings JD members,

Well, here we are, at the last of my columns as Chair of the Judicial Division.

At the outset, I want to thank each of you for the support and encouragement you have provided during the year as we endeavored to make the Division better known and more relevant to the work of the larger ABA. We have accomplished this through robust committee work, programs and webinars.

In this column, I want to highlight just a few things.

First, for more than a decade, the child welfare field has recognized June as National Reunification Month. It is a time of celebration for those families who have been successful in obtaining the legal permanency option that is the most desirable and permanent for children – reunification with parents and family. For this year’s celebration, highlighted parents, professionals, and youth for their work in reunifying parents and children. In keeping with the importance of involving those with lived experience, the voices of youth will be included this year with written articles by young people who were unified. This year’s theme: “We Believe in the Resiliency and Strength of Families!” will be celebrated in communities and courts around the nation.

Second, we also celebrate Pride Month in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. We recognize the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in making our civil society richer and more inclusive. Hope you were able to attend one of the many Pride celebrations of parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts across the country.

Third, Juneteenth (a combination of the words June and nineteenth) is celebrated on June 19th. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform the last enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended, and they were free. The holiday is also known as “Emancipation Day,” “Freedom Day,” and “second Independence Day.” It is no wonder then that the day is celebrated differently by people. For some, like many other holidays, it is a time to gather with family and friends, yet for others it is a calling to commemorate and reflect on the work that remains to be done as we continue to address institutional racism and inequalities. A friend sent me this as we exchanged emails about Juneteenth: From Ellison in the novel Juneteenth – “There’s been a heap of Juneteenths before this one and I tell you there’ll be a heap more before we’re truly free! Yes! But keep to the rhythm, just keep on the rhythm and keep to the way. …Time will come round when we’ll have to be their eyes; time will swing and turn back around.” She wrote: “Ellison had it right: ‘there’ll be a heap more before we’re truly free.’ The we is all of us, not only African Americans, but all of the American people, every individual of us.”

As I was writing this column, I received news of the long-awaited decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Haaland v. Brackeen case. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The decision reaffirms the sovereignty of Tribal Nations, puts the best interests of Native children first, upholds the minimum standards for removal of Native children from their families and continues the preference that Native children are placed with family or tribal members as the first option before placing them with non-Native families. In the opinion, there is discussion about the importance of cultural connections for children, the right to family integrity for parents and children and the concepts that children have a right to their culture and parents, and parents have a right to raise their children. ICWA is the law of the land, and child welfare practitioners and courts will have to adjust policy and practice to ensure that the constitutional rights of Native parents and children are fully protected.

Before closing this column out, I want to extend congratulations to Judge Frank Bailey on the unveiling of his portrait at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. The unveiling took place on Thursday, June 22, 2023.

I humbly thank the members of JD and its staff for your encouragement and support during this bar year. I hope that you feel that I have led our Division in a way that makes you proud and ensures your continued active and dedicated commitment to the JD. I pledge to continue to be actively involved and particularly, in the last weeks as Chair, I will continue to recruit members and I ask you to do the same. Unfortunately, I was unable to solve our financial problems, but we have a long-term budget planning meeting in August that should be productive. I hope to see you in Denver!

Until then, be well.

Ernestine S. Gray (Ret.)

2022-2023 Chair, Judicial Division

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