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special to the national law journal Dennis W. Archer, a former Detroit mayor and Michigan Supreme Court justice, is chairman of Detroit’s Dickinson Wright. He becomes the 127th president of the ABA. I am excited to become president of the American Bar Association at such a meaningful time in history. The last few years have provided challenges for the legal community as our country confronts national security threats that we have not experienced before. America also has been provided opportunities-to strengthen our laws and our principles, and to define ourselves and our place in the world. This is a time to look forward, to examine our laws and legal framework, to ensure that we maintain and continue the strong democratic principles and policies that have made America the most enduring democracy in the world. To go forward, we are required to examine our past and our legal history. We must examine the principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights while respecting the case law that strengthens those foundations. We can advance what is good about our country and discard old policies and ideas that held back our people in the past. This is a year of celebrations as we commemorate several landmark cases that have contributed to making America a great democracy. Judicial independence is one of the important cornerstones of our republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their honor to that principle. While we are grateful for our Constitution, the needed subsequent amendments and the Bill of Rights, without independent courts these documents might very well be meaningless. The idea that independent courts protect our liberties is very real to each of us. We have relied on that concept perhaps more than ever before since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Bush administration, the ABA and lawyers around the country have worked together to increase our national security, while ensuring that our freedoms and civil liberties are protected. Landmark anniversaries Marbury v. Madison (this year marks its 200th anniversary), firmly established the role and power of the judiciary. Courts are critical to upholding or denying the constitutionality of congressional or executive actions. As citizens, we look to the courts to protect our rights, and to make the rule of law a reality. Another defining case celebrates its 40th anniversary- Gideon v. Wainwright. Gideon established the fundamental principle of the right to counsel. It promised justice for our most vulnerable citizens-those who could not otherwise afford counsel. An adequately funded state public defender system is essential to achieving this ideal. Without such a system, poor people are provided court-appointed counsel at low rates of compensation. We must do better for our citizens, to ensure that they receive adequate legal assistance and fair trials. These cases prove that lawyers can make a difference. We are in a unique position to produce true social justice-the elimination of inequities that can make life unnecessarily hard for a certain class of people and unnecessarily easy for another class. Nowhere is this more evident than in one of the most important legal cases of the century, Brown v. Board of Education, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 17, 2004. Justice Thurgood Marshall’s most memorable victory as a lawyer opened doors and remedied injustice in a way that extended opportunities for generations to come. His work as the first U.S. Supreme Court justice of color exemplified his belief that there was a great deal more to be done to advance opportunity for people who had been locked out of the system. This is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger is so important. The American Bar Association applauds the upholding of University of Michigan Law School’s flexible affirmative action approach that ensures the effective participation by all segments of society. Our position is that law schools should demonstrate “commitment to providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by qualified members of groups, notably ethnic and racial minorities, which have been victims of discrimination in various forms.” (I am quoting from our Standards for Approval of Law Schools.) The ABA pledges to continue working with law schools across this nation to help them sustain and increase diverse law school enrollment in compliance with this ruling. I am quite fortunate to become the 127th president of the American Bar Association. I have only one year and there is so much significant work to be done by all of us. I will use the ” bully pulpit” to focus on racial and ethnic diversity in the profession that ABA President Bill Paul (1999-2000) emphasized; speak out on Martha Barnett’s (2000-01) work regarding the death penalty moratorium; emphasize law student loan forgiveness that Bob Hirshon (2001-02) set in place; and address the need for greater judicial independence and increased judicial compensation that Alfred P. Carlton Jr. (2002-03) championed. On substantive programs, I have appointed an ABA commission, chaired by Professor Charles Ogletree Jr. of Harvard Law School, to focus on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The commission will review the current state of Brown‘s goals and its effect on civil rights, while honoring the heroes of this historic decision. In addition, we will have two major summits, one on lawyers of color sponsored by the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice, to be led by Charles Morgan, senior vice president and general counsel of BellSouth Corp., and the other on the advancement of women into the top ranks of organizations and law firms, sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women, to be chaired by Diane Yu from New York University School of Law. I look forward to this year with great anticipation. Robert Grey Jr. is our president-elect. Together we make a major statement about our association-a statement that underlines the ABA’s commitment to serve the public good, to help improve the administration of justice and to provide access and opportunities to those members of our society who are, or have been, denied an equal opportunity to compete. I look forward to those challenges.

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