It’s a Small World
Rule of law will be the ABA’s focus over the next year
Posted Oct 1, 2007 9:53 AM CST
By James Podgers
By the time the ABA wrapped up its 2007 Annual Meeting on Aug. 14, there was no doubt that advancing the rule of law around the world is at the top of the association’s to-do list.
Just by itself, the fact that the World Justice Project is the centerpiece of incoming ABA President William H. Neukom’s agenda ensures that rule of law issues will be prominent for at least the next year.
Neukom, a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis in Seattle, took office at the close of this year’s meeting in San Francisco. His term ends next August at the close of the 2008 annual meeting in New York City.
The World Justice Project is moving on several tracks that will come together in July, when the ABA convenes a three-day World Justice Forum in Vienna, Austria. Planners expect the conclave to draw several hundred attendees from various countries and backgrounds. (See “A Big Tent Goes Up,” ABA Journal, August 2007.) That multidisciplinary scope is vital, Neukom said in his inaugural speech to the association’s House of Delegates.
“Many people do not understand the practical connection between the rule of law and their daily lives—their safety, jobs, health, education and freedom,” he said. “But the truth is that the rule of law is the necessary foundation for the police to protect people’s families and property, for businesses to succeed and create good jobs, for doctors to develop and distribute medicines, for teachers to educate our children, and for communities to hold their governments accountable.”
But Neukom wasn’t the only one at the annual meeting sounding that theme.
Speaking at the Rule of Law Initiative luncheon, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the laws of the United States and other nations are evolving into pieces of a larger fabric as they address issues of mutual interest. Breyer was the recipient of the ABA’s Rule of Law Award for 2007.
Meanwhile, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy tempered praise for the ABA’s efforts with caution about what they might achieve.
“The fact that you’re committed is cause for celebration,” Kennedy said in a speech to the House after receiving the ABA Medal, the association’s highest award. But “our system cannot be easily replicated,” he said. “We can’t just deliver it [to other societies] and assume it will work.”
The World Justice Project is the culmination of the ABA’s evolving commitment to international issues related to the rule of law, a commitment born amid the rubble of the Soviet empire’s collapse around 1990. Soon after, the association created the Central and East European Law Initiative to help former Soviet states rebuild their legal systems and introduce democratic government structures.
Now CEELI stands for the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative; it has been joined by similar initiatives for Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean—and, earlier this year, the Middle East and North Africa. Those efforts are coordinated by the Center for Rule of Law Initiatives.
The ABA also has undertaken outreach efforts on rule of law issues with other bar associations, and it sponsored major conferences on those issues in 2005 and 2006.
Following up on last year’s symposium, co-sponsored by the International Bar Association, a task force developed recommendations that were approved by the House of Delegates in San Francisco.
Those measures call for corporations around the world to exercise greater social responsibility and address environmental issues, to urge U.S. government bodies to act more assertively to fight human trafficking, and to endorse domestic and international principles of judicial independence.
But the World Justice Project also reflects a growing recognition that U.S. law cannot exist in a vacuum.
In his speech, Breyer recalled attending a conference commemorating the creation of the civil code, the predominant legal system outside the United States. While listening to the discussions, “I asked myself, ‘Where am I?’ I could have been in San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago or Philadelphia. The issues were the same.”