The American Bar Association will award its highest honor — the ABA Medal — to Fordham University School of Law professor John D. Feerick. The award will be presented to Feerick at the ABA Annual Meeting Aug. 12 in New York.
“Professor Feerick is that rare combination of a lawyer who has had enormous achievement in public service, private practice and in legal education,” said ABA President Linda A. Klein. “He is the embodiment of the citizen lawyer. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 25thAmendment to the Constitution, Professor Feerick’s contributions to that effort cannot be minimized. Throughout his distinguished career as a labor lawyer, legal educator and public servant, his unimpeachable integrity and brilliance has made him a giant in the legal community and an invaluable aide to our government and our democracy.”
Feerick helped draft the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which celebrates its 50th anniversary of ratification this year. The amendment sets out the succession process for the U.S. presidency and establishes procedures for when the president is disabled or the office of vice president must be filled. Feerick was asked by the American Bar Association to help draft the amendment in 1964 after he wrote an article about the gaps in presidential succession for the Fordham Law Review. He also authored a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book about presidential succession and is recognized as the preeminent scholar on the 25th Amendment. Even today, he holds conferences and works with students in his Presidential Succession Clinic to examine the gaps in the succession process and what can be done about them.
“When I was told of my selection, I expressed my astonishment and accepted it in memory of my parents, two immigrants from Ireland without a formal education beyond grammar school,” Feerick said. “I do not feel worthy of such an honor and am humbled that people considered me worthy. I thank the American Bar Association from the bottom of my heart.”
After graduating from Fordham College in 1958, Feerick earned his law degree at Fordham University’s School of Law. He joined the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 1961 where he worked as a labor and employment attorney. He became a partner in 1968 and established himself as a leader in the field of labor law.
In 1982, he became dean of Fordham Law, a position he held for 20 years. Feerick formed the school’s ethics and dispute resolution curriculum and public service and clinical programs, and established multiple centers and institutes, including the Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham. Established in 2006 and named in his honor, the center reflects Feerick’s long tradition of and commitment to legal education in the service of others. The center works with students, alumni, lawyers and community volunteers to connect low-income New Yorkers to the legal resources they need but cannot afford while training law students and others to engage in social change efforts. The center has developed successful programs addressing a wide variety of issues including unaccompanied immigrant children, domestic violence and debtor education. Using innovative solutions and nonlitigation methods, the Feerick Center extends access to justice across New York City and simultaneously inspires social advocates across the country to do the same. Today, at age 80, Feerick still serves as founder and senior counsel at the center.
“John’s professional accomplishments are remarkable — few people have played a major role in building both a major law firm and a major law school — and he has made substantial contributions on multiple fronts to the legal community and beyond,” said Fordham Law School Dean Matthew Diller. “Generous and humble by nature, John has always made time to help individuals who come to him for guidance.”
Feerick is a U.S. Army veteran, serving in both the 77th Infantry Division and the 4th Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He chaired a joint committee of legal, arbitration and conflict resolution professionals that developed national standards for mediation. Feerick mediated diverse and high-profile labor disputes, from a 1993 National Football League salary cap dispute to the 1994 New York City transit negotiations to the 1999 National Basketball Association lockout.
Feerick also is renowned for his ethics and integrity. He has been chair of the New York State Commission on Public Integrity, which was responsible for restoring the public’s trust in government after corruption scandals in the 1980s. He was president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and has worked on commissions including chairing the New York State Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections, which sought to reform the nomination, campaigning, election and retention of state judges in the wake of several bribery scandals. He has also worked on a panel to help resolve the homelessness crisis in New York, served as a member of the New York State Law Revision Commission, the New York State Committee to Promote Public Trust and Confidence in the Legal System, the New York State Judicial Salary Commission, the New York State Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Committee, the Chief Judge’s Corporate Advisory Group and as president of the Citizens Union Foundation.
He served as the inaugural chair of the ethics committee of the American Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section. Feerick has been chair of the Professionalism Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar and also served on the section’s Standards Review Committee, the Professionalism Committee and the Board of Visitors Committee. He was a member of the section’s Wahl Commission, chairing its Academic Standards Subcommittee.
Feerick served as an advisor to the ABA Commission on Electoral College Reform and a member of the ABA Special Constitutional Convention Committee. He was special consultant to the ABA Board of Governors on the pardon granted to President Richard Nixon; chair and member of the association’s Special Elections Committee; chair of the host committee for the ABA’s Annual Meeting in 1993; and, among other activities, chair of the ABA Junior Bar Conference Committee on Presidential Inability and Vice Presidential Vacancy.
He has received the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution’s D’Alemberte Raven Award in 2011, which recognizes outstanding service in dispute resolution, and the Robert J. Kutak Award in 2011, which is given by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the firm of Kutak Rock, LLP, to an individual who has contributed significantly toward increased cooperation between legal education, the practicing bar and the judiciary.