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Mary Smith expected to become first woman Native American ABA president

Mary L. Smith was named president-elect nominee of the American Bar Association and will likely become the first woman Native American president of the association in August 2023.

Smith was elected by the 69-member Nominating Committee on Sunday, Feb. 13, during the ABA’s Midyear Meeting. She ran against Lucian Pera of Tennessee. Barring an unprecedented petition from another candidate within an upcoming 50-day window, Smith is expected to be elected president-elect by the House of Delegates at the Annual Meeting in August 2022. She then will become ABA president at the Annual Meeting scheduled for Denver in 2023.

In virtual remarks from Chicago to the House of Delegates on Monday, Feb. 14, Smith recognized the 75,000 indigenous people in the city and talked about how much the profession has changed. She stressed the importance of lawyers at a time when, she said, “there would be no democracy without the rule of law. There would be no democracy without lawyers.”

Smith acknowledged those who helped her get elected: “It took a village,” she said. “And in my case, it took a tribe.”

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Smith was born in Chicago and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. She was on the ABA Board of Governors for seven years and served as ABA secretary from 2017-20. Smith has served in the ABA House of Delegates and has worked with several sections, including the Commission on Women in the Profession, the Section of Litigation and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

During her long legal career, Smith has served as general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance; counselor in the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she focused on national security, consumer protection, constitutional issues, and legislative matters; associate White House counsel to the President of the United States; and associate director of White House Policy Planning during the Clinton administration. She was also a partner at Schoeman Updike & Kaufman and an attorney at Skadden Arps. She is a past president of the National Native American Bar Association and past president and founder of the National Native American Bar Foundation.

The ABA Nominating Committee also hosted a Candidates Forum at the Midyear Meeting where former HOD Chair Bill Bay spoke, seeking the nomination of ABA president-elect at the 2023 Midyear Meeting, and Marvin Dang spoke seeking the nomination of ABA secretary at the same meeting. Both are unopposed.  The committee also voted to move forward Palmer “Gene” Vance II of Kentucky as chair of the House of Delegates (2022-24 term) and Frank “Fritz” Langrock of Vermont as treasurer for 2023-26.

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