Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
During the past year, Americans have faced historic challenges, including the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, relentless attacks on judges and the legal profession and a series of invidious encroachments on individual freedoms and the Constitution. The American Bar Association and our 411,000 members took a forceful lead in confronting these and other crises affecting the legal rights and well-being of Americans. Katrina left hundreds of thousands homeless throughout the Gulf region and immediately precipitated the greatest legal services crisis in the history of our country. Even as the storm was lashing the Gulf coast, I appointed the ABA Task Force on Hurricane Katrina to help provide free legal services to all victims. The task force and volunteer lawyers will continue their efforts until the job is done. In the months before I became president, a different type of crisis was brewing. Some members of Congress began threatening judges with impeachment, court budget cuts, jurisdiction-stripping and other retaliatory acts because of judicial rulings in controversial matters such as the Terri Schiavo case. It was clear that these threats were premised on the dangerous idea that judges should decide cases according to political ideology instead of facts and the law. Worse, the threats, and those making or endorsing them, struck at the very heart of our Constitution-the doctrine of separation of powers, which gives each branch of our government equal but distinct powers. The ABA strongly opposes ideologues, whether on the right or the left, who are intent on destroying respect for and the independence of the judiciary. An ABA survey of the public last summer showed that nearly half of the respondents could not identify the three branches of government, the meaning of “separation of powers” or the duties of a judge. I appointed the ABA Commission on Civic Education and the Separation of Powers in the belief that an educated and engaged citizenry is the ultimate check on government’s abuse of power and the best guarantor of democracy’s survival. The commission is urging state education policymakers to provide civic education that will reinvigorate public understanding of our government, particularly the vital role of an independent judiciary, so that citizens will protect the freedoms that democracy assures us. Internationally, the ABA Center for Rule of Law Initiatives is helping to develop stable justice systems in more than 40 emerging democracies. In February, the ABA House of Delegates unanimously approved the Statement of Core Principles of the Legal Profession worldwide, which I authored, and which was unanimously adopted by 100 bar leaders from around the world in Paris last November. Our nation’s founders recognized that power concentrated in one branch of government inevitably would be abused, and that separating powers among three branches of government serves as a critical check on overzealous government. These vital ideas are at the heart of separation-of-power confrontations between the administration and Congress that currently threaten our freedoms. Domestic surveillance After the New York Times reported in December that the administration was conducting unprecedented electronic eavesdropping on American citizens, without the knowledge or concurrence of Congress or the courts, I appointed a bipartisan ABA task force of outstanding experts in national security and constitutional law to consider this troubling separation-of-powers issue. In February, the ABA Task Force on Domestic Surveillance in the Fight against Terrorism issued unanimous recommendations as to how the executive branch and Congress can, and must, bring the administration’s domestic surveillance program into compliance with existing law and the Constitution. The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved the task force’s recommendations that the administration obtain approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for any national security eavesdropping on citizens, and consult Congress to seek any revisions to national security law it thinks necessary. The executive branch, the task force urged, must honor, not disrespect, the role of Congress in our tripartite democratic government. During the ABA’s annual meeting this August, the House of Delegates will consider another significant separation-of-powers confrontation between the executive and Congress. Following news reports that President Bush has used signing statements to indicate that he will not enforce congressional enactments that he believes encroach on his powers, it became imperative to examine the constitutionality of this practice. I appointed the ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, a bipartisan group of outstanding constitutional scholars, retired federal judges, former members of Congress and former members of Republican and Democratic administrations to study the issues presented. The House of Delegates will consider recommendations from the task force as to the appropriate use of presidential signing statements. Protecting our democracy and the separation-of-powers doctrine are not partisan issues. These matters affect all of us because they pose grave threats to our cherished republic. In what will be a historic vote during the annual meeting, the ABA will consider a new paradigm for responding to the legal needs of lower-income Americans that will be recommended by the ABA Task Force on Access to Civil Justice, which I appointed a year ago: a defined right to civil counsel, paid for by the state and parallel to the Gideon right to criminal counsel, for serious civil matters affecting family, shelter and health. Protecting the profession The legal profession also has been threatened by the overreaching of the federal government. The ABA has succeeded in several areas in protecting the legal profession and the rights of individuals represented by lawyers from improper and damaging interference. In March, an ABA lawsuit, filed jointly with the New York State Bar Association, stopped the Federal Trade Commission from mystifyingly treating lawyers as “financial institutions” under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. In April, the U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to eliminate from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines provisions that gave corporations and executives “cooperation credit” in exchange for what many deemed to be coerced waivers of the attorney-client privilege, a bedrock principle of the justice system since our nation was founded. The ABA is continuing to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to eliminate a similar policy that encourages prosecutors to pressure companies under investigation to waive the attorney-client privilege. The ABA’s leadership on these issues will continue to be unequivocal and constant. That, after all, is why the ABA exists, and why it has such great respect throughout the free world. Michael S. Greco is the outgoing president of the ABA. He is a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.