Annual Meeting

'We must not give up,' ABA President-elect Mary Smith says

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Mary Smith speaks at a podium

Mary Smith, the ABA president-elect, addresses the ABA House of Delegates on Aug. 9. (Photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA.)

Mary Smith began her remarks as the ABA’s incoming president-elect Tuesday by honoring mothers and strong women.

“I know I did not get here by myself, and I know that none of us does,” Smith said. “For me, my path has been significantly influenced by my beloved mother, sweet Caroline, who passed just a few weeks ago. My mother instilled in me kindness, strength, determination, perseverance and, yes, stubbornness. She was a fighter to the end.”

Smith, vice chair and partner at the Veng Group in Chicago, faced an uncontested vote by the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago and officially became the president-elect at the close of the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting. She was selected as the ABA’s president-elect nominee by the House’s Nominating Committee at the ABA Midyear Meeting in February.

ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross also began her one-year term as president at the close of the annual meeting. Enix-Ross will pass the gavel to Smith at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver.

Smith told House members, “We are at an inflection point for our country and our association.” She recalled a story about Benjamin Franklin being asked after a session of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “What kind of government have you given us?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“Our republic is founded on four principles that include the rule of law, faith in our system of justice, and free and fair elections,” said Smith, who added that lawyers have the unique skills and a special role to play in keeping democracy alive.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2022 ABA Annual Meeting here.

“As lawyers, we must counter the notion that the threats to our democracy are political issues,” she said. “Let me be clear: They are not. The rule of law, the integrity of a fundamental right to vote and protecting the independence of the judiciary will always be our special responsibility. So, too, is the importance of civil discourse.”

Smith, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and a longtime ABA member, is the first female Native American president-elect of the association.

She served as ABA secretary from 2017 to 2020 and on the ABA Board of Governors for seven years. She was also a member of the House of Delegates and has been active in the Section of Litigation, the Commission on Women in the Profession and what is now the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

Smith told House members she is inspired every day by the work of her colleagues to support the ABA’s four goals via efforts such as the Young Lawyers Division’s support of new attorneys; ABA Day’s impact on American policy; the long success of the Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy; and ongoing endeavors to connect Afghan lawyers and judges to immigration assistance and careers in the U.S. legal profession.

“We lift people up,” Smith said. “We lift lawyers up. We lift the legal profession up. And we cannot let ourselves be distracted by detractors. We can and must do more.”

Smith, who is also a past president of the National Native American Bar Association and founder of the National Native American Bar Association Foundation, closed her speech by invoking the spirit of Wilma Mankiller, who is recognized as the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

“She said, ‘The secret of our success is that we never, never give up,’” Smith said. “So we must not give up. We must not give in. We must do what is right. We must lead.”

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