Annual Meeting

ABA president tells House of Delegates to 'keep moving' and 'keep climbing'

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ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross, in her final speech as president at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting on Monday: “Let us all be crystal clear and keep our eyes on the ball: Whatever the obstacles in our path, we will keep moving.” Photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA Media Relations.

Deborah Enix-Ross, in her final speech as president of the ABA, encouraged the House of Delegates to “keep climbing.”

“We’ve come a long way,” Enix-Ross, senior adviser to the International Dispute Resolution Group at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, said Monday at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver. “And we have so much farther to go. This is true not only with racial and ethnic equity but also for women, people in the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and others who have much to contribute who’ve nevertheless been shunned or shut out of equal opportunity.”

“Let us all be crystal clear and keep our eyes on the ball: Whatever the obstacles in our path, we will keep moving,” she added.

She told House members that they must keep climbing to protect their relevance as a profession and stewardship of equal justice. This is vital, she said, to support diversity, equity and inclusion; expand access to justice through pro bono and legal aid; and promote ethics and professionalism.

Enix-Ross, who became president at the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2022, noted some of the highlights of her journey over the past year. The University of Miami School of Law graduate gave the commencement address at her alma mater. She visited with many other law students, including those at the six historically Black colleges and universities.

“I hope the example I tried to set will help future lawyers climb their own mountains and lead our profession to new heights,” Enix-Ross said.

She traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit the founding place of the National Bar Association and to Poland to address the Warsaw Bar Association, which is fighting to protect the independence of their country’s judiciary.

And Saturday, Enix-Ross said, “What a spectacular honor it was for me, just a girl from Harlem” to award longtime civil rights lawyer Fred Gray the ABA Medal, which is the association’s highest honor.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

Enix-Ross also reflected on her signature Cornerstones of Democracy project, which focuses on civics, civility and collaboration. She contended that the legal profession and rule of law are “under the spotlight as never before,” particularly as the 2023 ABA Survey of Civic Literacy found that 85% of respondents believe civility is worse now than it was 10 years ago.

She said Cornerstones of Democracy inspired bar associations, schools and communities to promote the importance of what she calls “the three Cs.” It also led to new collaborations with the Federalist Society, medical community and corporate partners, including Nationwide. The insurance company produced an ABA-co-sponsored program on civics, civility and collaboration that was attended by more than 700 of its employees.

Enix-Ross asked Mark Howard, Nationwide’s executive vice president and chief legal officer, to accept a presidential citation on behalf of the company.

In closing, Enix-Ross posed this question: Is the legal profession’s defense of liberty and pursuit of justice going uphill or downhill?

“I would argue that, like all mountain treks, our journey together involves both,” Enix-Ross said. “As we go uphill, may we ascend to new heights, magnificent views and perhaps even revelation. And as we go downhill, may we return to our basecamp of civics, civility and collaboration with the grace, perhaps that of a downhill skier.”

“We go uphill and downhill with grace thanks to all of you,” she said.

See also:

ABA Journal: “ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross says she’ll focus on civics, civility and collaboration” “In speech, Deborah Enix-Ross applauds ABA’s civic and civil engagement”

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