Annual Meeting

Lawyers 'are called to run towards the storm,' says incoming ABA President Mary Smith

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Mary Smith at a podium

Mary Smith is the first Native American woman to be selected as president of the association. (Photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA Media Relations)

Incoming ABA President Mary Smith emphasized the need to unflinchingly face challenges to democracy as she addressed the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver on Monday.

“To be blunt, the very core of our society—our commitment to democracy—is under threat,” she said. “It seems every day, assaults on the Constitution and the rule of law attack the legitimacy of the instruments of our law and democracy, eroding our dedication to them.”

Smith’s speech followed the passing of the gavel ceremony. Her term as president will officially begin at the close of the annual meeting on Tuesday. “Your reputation as a leader of intelligence and experience, along with your good judgment will lead us to great heights,” said outgoing ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross.

Mary Smith entered the ABA House of Delegates assembly alongside outgoing ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross. (Photo by Paul Bradner/ABA Journal)

Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was presented with a ceremonial blanket by Kevin Meeks, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, in gratitude “for all she has done and will do.”

Along with calling for a commitment to shared ideals amongst ABA members, Smith, who will be the first Native American woman to serve as ABA president, highlighted three initiatives for her term, which will have this theme: “Lifting Our Voices, Charting the Future.”

Mary Smith wearing the blanket she was givenIncoming ABA President Mary Smith was presented with a handwoven blanket by representatives of the Chickasaw Nation. (Photo by Paul Bradner/ABA Journal)

First, an ABA Task Force for American Democracy will “consider and propose solutions for educating our citizens on the importance of an inclusive, strong and enduring democracy and help to provide bulwarks to bolster our democracy as conceived,” she said.

Retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig and former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson will co-chair the task force.

Also, a new artificial intelligence task force will look at how AI is used and make recommendations on how it could impact “the practice of law, access to justice, and laws and regulations” and “help ensure that the creation and incorporation of AI is done in accordance with the law and well-accepted legal standards.”

“Democracy is also being threatened and challenged by technology, particularly the development of generative AI,” she said. “Not only democracy will be challenged, however, but frankly, all aspects of society.”

Additionally, she emphasized the need for diversity in the legal profession. “Law touches everything in society. It’s essential that there be diversity in all its dimensions,” she said.

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

Smith saluted ABA members and called for them to continue to persevere. “I see a rich blanket woven with patterns of your collective life’s work of unwavering dedication to the defense of liberty and the pursuit of justice,” she said. “This is the North Star that has guided us and by which we will continue to steer our course.”

Saying collective commitment and active participation are the foundation of the ABA’s strength, Smith challenged the membership to “meet the moment.”

“We are called on to run towards the storm,” she said. “There is no more critical time to be a member of the American Bar Association.”

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