Sheila S. Boston headshot
BY Sheila S. Boston

A Bar of Hope; a Voice of Progress

As President of this great Association, it is my privilege to review all of the policy work produced by our committees. I am always so inspired when I experience their dedication to this work. The comments on legislation and regulations, the letters to public officials, the white papers, and the memos that we craft are what give the New York City Bar Association its voice. With that voice we speak up for just causes in our community; we lend the technical prowess of New York City’s finest legal minds to some of its thorniest legal problems; and we offer informed guidance to our elected leaders. The power of our voice, which as you will see in these pages is so often heard and heeded, is at the center of our mission to be a Bar of Hope.

At a time when it would be easy for us to put our heads down, to give up on progress, to give in to this pandemic whirlwind, the City Bar’s work is a lesson in persistence. Dozens of bills that passed the New York State Legislature last year were formally supported by City Bar Committee work. Some of them are on big, attention-grabbing issues like parole reform and expanding opportunities to vote in New York. Some are on obscure, technical issues that nevertheless affect everyone, like the cessation of U.S. dollar LIBOR. In every case, City Bar committees put in countless hours on multiple reports – drafting, reviewing, conferring (and sometimes debating) with related committees, and revising and tailoring our positions to find consensus and speak with what we call our “City Bar voice.” It’s hard to see that detail in a big headline about new legislation, but those are the moments that make me so sure that my beloved City Bar moves the needle toward change.

I want to single out one cause that is near and dear to my heart and central to the heart and purpose of the City Bar: voting rights. I am at times flabbergasted and even overwhelmed on some days, when I reflect on the fact that in the year 2022, the right to vote and the institution of free elections in the United States of America are under attack. One need only consider Ukraine to underscore how fragile a democracy can be. Currently Ukraine is where the world is bearing witness to a people valiantly defending their right to choose their own leaders. They are essentially, and literally, fighting for the right to vote. It is thus easy to despair, and easy to forget that the vote and free elections have come under attack in many different ways, times, and places throughout our country’s history, and that countless brave people have fought a thousand battles large and small to protect our democracy. It has been pure agony to watch election processes degraded in other states, and to at times feel that we are too far removed and powerless to do something about it.

But we are not too far removed, and we have not sat idle. Our Election Law Committee, together with our Government Ethics & State Affairs Committee, New York City Affairs Committee, and Task Force on the Rule of Law, has hosted a series of events raising awareness about various election-reform efforts at the local, state, and federal level. We have sounded the alarm and lifted our voice in support of the right to vote, for to defend the right to vote is to defend democracy. Earlier this year, the same committees reached across the country to bring legislators and stakeholders from Texas together with legislators and stakeholders in New York to talk about common ground on election reform. The Task Force on the Rule of Law and the Election Law Committee authored Nine Principles for America’s Lawyers on Voting and the Rule of Law, and have invited legal professionals and law students everywhere to sign in support of an institution that the legal profession is uniquely suited to protect. Over 1,000 have signed to date. And we didn’t stop there. Working closely with our American Bar Association colleagues, we helped adopt ABA Resolution 800, which calls on legislatures to “preserve and protect the right to vote in U.S. elections,” and ABA Resolution 801, which advocates for election reform at the federal level. Awareness and action are growing!

Step by step, day by day. That is the spirit of the Bar of Hope! Progress is never easy, and it is never swift enough. But I am so proud to know that the roots of progress take shape in the virtual as well as physical committee rooms of our beloved City Bar.

Our work is never done. To get a sense of this fact, look at our 2022 New York State Legislative Agenda, a collection of issues upon which we advocate every day. You can also read descriptions of some of our major policy successes. In 2021, we issued over 150 reports – on local, state, national, and international issues of concern – and 2022 promises to keep pace. And, right here at home, with a new mayoral administration in New York City, there is potential for fresh change and growth. In these pages you can also find the numerous memos that have been sent to elected leaders in New York, bringing our membership’s expertise to bear in directing official attention to the issues that matter most.

To all of our members, I say: “Let’s use our voice and take action!” There is no shortage of energy at the City Bar. Get involved and be a part of this Bar of Hope, this community of change and progress. In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis, “Let’s get into some good trouble”!