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Stephen Zack plugs the ABA's role in the rule of law during stint as U.N. delegate


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Photo of Stephen N. Zack courtesy of his law firm, Boies, Schiller and Flexner.

Stephen N. Zack will readily acknowledge that he has enjoyed a legal career packed with significant accomplishments, both in private practice and public service. And it would be easy to view his 2010-11 term as ABA president as the culmination of that career.

But Zack, the administrative partner for Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Miami, says some of the most memorable moments of his career have occurred since his ABA presidential term ended in August 2011. In particular, he points to his four-month stint in late 2013 as a public delegate representing the United States in the General Assembly of the United Nations. He concurrently served as a senior adviser to the U.S. Department of State.

“A highlight of my career was sitting behind the United States plaque” with other members of the U.S. delegation during sessions of the General Assembly, says Zack, an immigrant from Cuba who came to the U.S. with his family in 1961 at the age of 14. Another high point, he says, was giving an address to the General Assembly on rule of law issues.

And, he says, being in the General Assembly when President Barack Obama spoke “was very, very moving to me.”

Zack says his term as a public delegate “was, in effect, a post-graduate course in the United Nations for me. I learned a lot about U.N. organization and operations.”

During that time, Zack participated in the U.N.’s day-to-day work along with scores of other diplomats from nations around the world. He lived in New York City throughout the fall. Every weekday he would attend an 8 a.m. briefing, then would attend sessions of the General Assembly or meetings with ambassadors, staff members and U.N. experts on various issues. He participated directly in the work of the General Assembly’s human rights and legal committees.

“I think I’m the first ABA past-president to hold this position,” Zack says, “and I had many opportunities to talk about ABA activities on issues like human rights.”

THE BIG SPEECH

Zack addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 10. His speech summarized pledges made by the U.S. government to carry out initiatives following up on the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law held in 2012.

But Zack also discussed the importance of the rule of law in broader terms. “The linkage between the rule of law and human rights is clear and undeniable,” he said. “Those individuals who need justice the most are also the most likely to slip through the cracks of their country’s justice system. No one should feel helpless at the hands of their government. This is why issues related to governance, including rule of law, should be infused throughout the discourse on development and poverty eradication.”

Zack made special note of the legal profession’s role in addressing these issues. “I firmly believe that as attorneys, we have an obligation to ensure that the rule of law remains strong,” he said. “But as members of the legal profession, it is important to understand that this obligation doesn’t call upon us to simply advocate for law. Instead, we are called to fight for just law.”

The position of public delegate at the U.N.—each national delegation may include three among its 10 members—carries a slight touch of ceremony and politics. By the time Zack received a call from the White House appointments office about the U.N. position, he had been active in both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and had a long history in Florida politics. He remembers that his first reaction was “That’s wonderful!” and then thinking: “What is it?”

Although Zack completed his work at the U.N. in December, he continues to be active on international law issues at the ABA. He chairs the association’s Rule of Law Initiative and the association’s committee planning the commemoration next June of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Man of the World: Stephen Zack plugs the ABA’s role in the rule of law during stint as U.N. delegate.”

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