By Alan Pickert | ABA House of Delegates
As North Florida’s representative, I attended the American Bar Association’s semiannual House of Delegates meeting Aug. 8-9 in Chicago.
Over the course of two days, more than 70 resolutions were debated and voted on concerning the practice of law and law-related issues.
The issues that were most hotly debated were reproductive rights of women since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade; nonlawyer ownership of law firms; and various criminal justice-related matters.
The ABA reaffirmed its decadeslong policy that embraced a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. In 1992, the ABA adopted a resolution supporting the right to abortion before fetal viability and a more limited right thereafter. In 2019, the HOD adopted policy that generally advocates an end to laws that restrict and regulate abortion access.
The new policies, proposed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overruling the landmark 1973 abortion decision, are:
• Resolution 804 opposes the imposition of criminal or civil liability on any individual or entity who essentially helps a person who voluntarily seeks or considers an abortion.
The policy urges that any existing statute(s) that imposes such liability be repealed and provides an exception for malpractice or statutory negligence.
• Resolution 805 opposes any government attempt that restricts the right of any individual to access contraceptives or contraceptive care.
• Resolution 806 supports enactment of the Respect for Marriage Act or similar legislation that codifies marriage equality for same-sex and interracial couples by federal statute.
• Resolution 807 opposes the criminal prosecution of any physician or medical or health care provider who provides or attempts to provide an abortion, or who encourages, helps, advises, gives information to, aids, assists or supports a patient with having an abortion.
It also asks that any existing law allowing for this prosecution to be repealed.
In the area of lawyer ethics and nonlawyer ownership of law firms, the delegates voted in favor of Resolution 402 which reaffirms the ABA’s rule barring nonlawyer ownership of law firms but also reaffirms policy approved in 2020 that encourages innovation in the profession at the state level as long as the entities involved measure the effect of change.
In other words, the ABA wants to encourage innovative ways to make sure everyone has access to legal resources but not at the expense of legal ethics.
The House of Delegates also adopted as new policy several criminal justice-related measures including:
• Resolution 601 urges the repeal of the federal law, also known as the “Charleston Loophole,” that allows for the sale of a firearm to be finalized after three business days have expired, even if the required background check has not been completed.
• Resolution 501 sets out the ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Diversion providing guidance on various aspects of diversion programs.
The standards are consistent with efforts to reduce collateral consequences; address over-criminalization; reduce incarceration; curtail the burden on and investment in the criminal legal system; and eradicate racial disparities throughout the system.
• Resolution 502 urges governmental entities to enact legislation permitting courts to hear petitions that allow hearings to take a “second look” at criminal sentences where individuals have been incarcerated for 10 years.
The report to support the resolution noted that the U.S. is home to less than 5% of the world’s population but houses nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners, adding that incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color.
Visit americanbar.org/news/ for details about other policy resolutions and other matters considered by the House during the two-day session.
The House of Delegates will meet again in February 2023 in New Orleans.
Alan Pickert, partner at Terrell Hogan and past president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, is the ABA delegate for North Florida and one of only six delegates representing Florida.