February 14, 2022

Mary Smith becomes first Native American president-elect nominee

At the American Bar Association Virtual Midyear Meeting on Feb. 14, the Nominating Committee reported that Mary L. Smith was named president-elect nominee and will likely become the first Native American president of the association in August 2023.


Smith prevailed over Lucian Pera of Tennessee in a vote by the 69-member committee on Feb. 13. Barring an unprecedented petition from another candidate emerging in an upcoming 50-day window, Smith would be voted in as president-elect by the House of Delegates at the Annual Meeting in August, then become ABA president at the Annual Meeting scheduled for Denver in 2023.

In virtual remarks from Chicago to the House of Delegates on Monday, Smith recognized the 75,000 indigenous people in the city and talked about how much the profession has changed. She stressed the importance of lawyers in this day and age, saying, “There would be no democracy without the rule of law. There would be no democracy without lawyers.”

Smith acknowledged the importance of the ABA and the need for people to be involved, adding that she did not do it alone. “It took a village,” she said. “And in my case, it took a tribe.”

A member of the Cherokee Nation, Smith was born in Chicago and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. She was on the ABA Board of Governors for seven years and served as ABA secretary from 2017-2020. Smith has served in the ABA House of Delegates and has worked with several sections, including the Commission on Women in the Profession, the Section of Litigation and the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.

During her long legal career, Smith has served as general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance; counselor in the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, focusing on national security, consumer protection, constitutional issues and legislative matters; associate White House counsel to the president of the United States; and associate director of White House Policy Planning. She was also a partner at Schoeman Updike & Kaufman and an attorney at Skadden Arps. Smith is a past president of the National Native American Bar Association and past president and founder of the National Native American Bar Foundation.

The Nominating Committee also handled other business at Midyear, hearing remarks during the Candidates Forum from the two people seeking nomination at the 2023 Midyear Meeting, both running unopposed: Bill Bay for president-elect and Marvin Dang for secretary.  The committee also voted to move forward Palmer G. Vance II of Kentucky as chair of the House of Delegates (2022-2024 term) and Frank “Fritz” Langrock of Vermont as treasurer for 2023-2026.

Members of the Board of Governors for 2022-2025 were also named. They are:

  • Goal III Disability Member-at-Large – Denise R. Avant of Illinois
  • Goal III Woman Member-at-Large – Katie Larkin Wong of California
  • Section of Family Law – Anita M. Ventrelli of Illinois
  • Section of Dispute Resolution – Pamela C. Enslen of Michigan
  • Section of Public Contract Law – Michael W. Mutek of Alabama
  • District 7 – Aurora Austriaco of Illinois
  • District 8 – Jo Ann Englehardt of Florida
  • District 10 – James S. Hill of North Dakota
  • District 11 – M. Joe Crosthwait Jr. of Oklahoma
  • District 13 – Carlos Rodríguez Vidal of Puerto Rico
  • District 18 – Daniel A. Schwartz of Connecticut