American Bar Association President Reginald Turner gave a robust defense of the rule of law, voting rights and the ABA’s effectiveness in his address to the House of Delegates on Feb. 14 at the ABA Virtual Midyear Meeting.
Referring to the theme of his address to the House upon becoming president last August that “the sun is rising on the rule of law,” Turner said, “My hope endures, but storm clouds increasingly appear on the landscape.”
Despite those fears, he said, “My hope for the rule of law is sustained by the work we do as lawyers and members of the bar and by my conviction that the organized bar is needed more than ever to defend liberty and deliver justice.”
The Clark Hill lawyer and Detroit resident outlined the many challenges facing the country. “Throughout the globe, forces are promoting lawlessness, corruption and attacks on democratic governance, threatening hard-won fundamental rights and freedoms,” he said. “In our own country, opinion polls show that unprecedented numbers of citizens, from a variety of political leanings, believe that violence is a reasonable path to redress grievances and create change.”
He continued, “Such forces seriously undermine the values the ABA and our profession stand for, including the peaceful resolution of disputes with due process for all, the right to protest peacefully and the peaceful transfer of power following free and fair elections.”
These hurdles make the ABA’s mission more important than ever. Referring to the Rule of Law Initiative’s work in the world’s hotspots, Turner said, “In recent weeks, Ukrainian legal leaders took the time to seek ways with the ABA to build on our collaborative rule of law projects.” He noted that ROLI’s programs in Ukraine have been in place since soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The president also touted the association’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan. “Groups throughout the ABA are working under the umbrella of the Afghanistan Response Project to help legal professionals and others evacuate the country and train pro bono lawyers to help with asylum and resettlement.
Speaking of the right of “all eligible individuals to exercise the right to vote freely and fairly,” Turner said, “unfounded attacks on our election systems, processes and officials undermine public trust in elections and our duly elected leaders.” He lauded the ABA’s “advocacy, education and the policies adopted by this House” on voting rights.
The ABA leads in the area of pro bono, Turner said, including through Pro Bono Now, which allows lawyers to easily respond to the nation’s “extraordinary need” for pro bono legal assistance in areas such as evictions, refugee assistance and disaster relief. He also pointed to the success of Free Legal Answwers. “More than 10,000 volunteer lawyers in 45 states have signed up to answer civil legal questions from low-income individuals,” he said. “Last month, Free Legal Answers surpassed the milestone of 200,000 questions received, doubling the number in less than two years.”
In conclusion, Turner said, “You and all the dedicated lawyers out there are why I believe the sun is rising on the rule of law. Our commitment, our work and our leadership strengthen our profession, enhance our professional lives and preserve the rights and freedoms of Americans and people everywhere.
“What we do is more important than ever.”