Posted Aug 11, 2006 11:03 pm CDT
In this final message, I want to share some thoughts about the role of our association.
“The American Bar Association during the past 12 months has demonstrated extraordinary leadership and courage on behalf of the American people.” Those are not my words. They appear in numerous communications sent by American citizens expressing heartfelt gratitude and thanks to our association.
The association this year has been proactive in addressing challenges that inexorably confront the American people. We must continue to embrace, not sidestep, our leadership role in safeguarding the rule of law and the institutions of our democracy. Americans and government officials, notwithstanding occasional politically motivated criticism directed at the ABA, look hopefully to the association for such leadership.
The association must continue to oppose ideologues intent on destroying respect for and the independence of our judiciary. The Commission on Civic Education and Separation of Powers, which I appointed to help educate Americans about the vital importance of an independent judiciary, will bring policy recommendations to the annual meeting. Its important work will continue next year with the enthusiastic leadership of honorary co-chair Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The association’s work to promote the rule of law throughout the world counters tyranny and advances freedom. The portfolio of our new ABA Center for Rule of Law Initiatives continues to grow, with programs to develop stable justice systems in more than 40 countries. The House of Delegates in February unanimously approved the Statement of Core Principles of the Legal Profession, authored by me and unanimously adopted by 100 bar leaders meeting in Paris last November, to advance the rule of law throughout the world. We are about to execute important collaboration agreements with the national bar associations of China, Japan and Russia.
The association must continue to safeguard the rule of law at home. The recommendations of the distinguished, bipartisan ABA Task Force on Domestic Surveillance in the Fight Against Terrorism, which I appointed to examine the administration’s surveillance of American citizens, were adopted near-unanimously by the House in February, urging the administration to respect the role of Congress under the separation of powers doctrine. A similarly distinguished bipartisan ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, which I appointed in June, will bring to the House recommendations regarding yet another serious constitutional issue confronting our democracy.
Issues such as governmental spying on citizens, torture, and disdain for the separation of powers doctrine are not partisan issues. These issues affect all of us, define us and potentially harm our cherished republic. The association must continue to confront them in a nonpartisan way.
The association, in what will be a historic vote at the annual meeting, must support expansion of civil legal assistance for poor Americans through a new paradigm: a defined right to civil counsel, which the Task Force on Access to Civil Justice that I appointed will recommend.
The House will also consider policies facilitating our profession’s pro bono and public service mission, which the Commission on a Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession that I appointed will recommend.
The work of these ABA commissions and task forces will guide our efforts to help ensure access to justice for all and to educate Americans about our democracy so that they will fervently help protect our freedoms. Our association’s leadership and vigilance on issues such as these must be unequivocal and constant. That, after all, is why the ABA exists, and why it has such great respect throughout the free world.
I now give the reins to President-elect Karen Mathis, who is ready to lead our association with great energy. We bid godspeed to Bob Stein, who has served the ABA as executive director for 12 successful years. I thank Bob for his many contributions and wish him continued success.
I am enormously proud to be a lawyer and to have had the opportunity, with you, to serve the greatest professional association in the world. You have my best wishes.