Civil Rights and Ordered Liberty—Ideas for the NYSBA Committee on Civil Rights
I had the honor of attending the inauguration of Sherry Levin Wallach as the 125th president of the N.Y.S. Bar Association on June 1st. President Wallach will be focusing her one-year term on several initiatives. She has stated that one of her goals is to:
“maximize participation by our diverse and capable members so that the Association can achieve new levels of excellence ….”
Like her predecessor, Past President T. Andrew Brown, Ms. Wallach has been a leader on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She also indicates that she wants to encourage “increased membership from all backgrounds and perspectives,” so that various opinions on policy and political issues are considered.
Broadening the Reach of Civil Rights Committee
As new co-chair of the NYSBA Committee on Civil Rights (CCR), I hope our committee can assist President Wallach achieve her goals.
In this regard, I wholeheartedly agree with President Wallach’s goal of “maximizing participation by our diverse … members.” This can best be achieved, it seems to me, by listening to and considering differing viewpoints. The CCR should be a leader in this regard.
There is no greater “civil right” in a democracy than the right to reasonably express ideas for public consumption and consideration. People naturally prefer their own views, and are resistant to opposing views. Yet no person has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. For a democracy to work as the Founders intended, civil debate of opposing views is necessary.
One idea is to employ the CCR as a vehicle for civil debate and discussion of opposing points of view on the “hot button” issues we see in American and New York State today. The “culture wars” should not be akin to warfare, one side against the other in a zero sum game. Rather, it should be civil debate, to see where people can find common ground and consensus to achieve societal benefits for all. When we listen to others, we may find, to our own surprise, than we agree on much more than we might otherwise imagine. At a minimum, dialogue helps people recognize that those with opposing views are not evil or stupid, but rather may simply be emphasizing different facts or values, or perhaps are victim to propaganda or misinformation.
For our CCR to be effective, it seems to me we should determine what its members wish from service on the committee. Committee members should feel good about being members and look forward to attending meetings not as a chore, but rather as a value activity, both personally and professionally.
In this regard, we should put our heads together and discuss how best to help President Wallach with her goals, and help ourselves with our personal and professional goals in serving on the CCR. I propose one idea below—a bimonthly “zoom” program on “hot button” issues.
However, you may have better ideas. Perhaps every other month we try to find a speaker on an interesting and relevant civil rights/civil liberties topic. Or perhaps select a book to discuss, along the lines of a lawyer’s book club. For example, someone could lead a discussion on some recent books on the law such as:
Or perhaps we could discuss something as simple as a provocative YouTube video, such as one I saw by accident yesterday pitting Bernie Sanders and Lindsey Graham on Fox News: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL2FRNOCKfg
Or perhaps discuss a specific topic recently in the national or N.Y.S. news. Or discuss a specific Supreme Court opinion, such as Carson v. Makin issued on June 21, 2022 concerning public funding of religious schools. See, https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-1088_dbfi.pdf
We could create our own subcommittes on topics of interest, with the idea of creating an article for posting on the Blog or perhaps for NYSBA publication.
Possible “Hot Button” programs for civil discussion
What I recently suggested to Hanna is that that during the next 12 months we plan a 30 minute zoom meeting (and advertise such for the general lawyer/public) during every second regular CCR meeting (i.e., bimonthly) to discuss, on “point, counterpoint” format, the following hot button issues:
- Hyper-partisanship—its roots, its value (if any) and its reduction (if possible)
- Abortion, Reproductive Rights & Privacy
- Gun Control and 2d Amendment
- Election Rights and Election Fraud
- Transgender Participation in Athletics
- Affirmative Action in Colleges
- Secular Education for Ultra-Orthodox children
I request your thoughts and input as to what I propose above. Please call or email me.
Mike Diederich, Jr.