Evoking the legacies of President Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. said today that "we must continue to strive for full equality under the law."
At a Law Day ceremony at the state Court of Appeals in Albany, James said that 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Both events "are momentous symbols of our progress," observed James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). "But they also represent a continuing call to action - to remain aware of persistent injustice, and to use whatever tools we can to fight discrimination and promote equality.
"Our nation eradicated the legal slave trade nearly 150 years ago, but today human trafficking continues to pose a terrible affront to human rights in the United States and across the globe.
"We have eliminated Jim Crow laws, but discrimination persists against disadvantaged and marginalized groups," he said.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman opened the annual Law Day ceremony attended by his colleagues on the Court of Appeals, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other elected officials. The theme of Law Day 2013 is "Realizing the Dream: Equality for All."
James said, "This year's Law Day theme encourages us to consider the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. King's famous speech not only as important milestones in our nation's history, but also as a challenge to remain mindful of the progress yet to be made, and to continue working toward equality for all."
Attorneys, he added, "have a special responsibility to promote equal rights for all Americans."
The State Bar Association continues to work toward that goal. Its Special Committee on Human Trafficking soon will release a report and recommendations "to ensure fair treatment of victims, strict punishment of traffickers, and other measures to eliminate this form of modern day slavery."
Many more women, people of color and others with diverse backgrounds have entered the legal profession during the past generation, James said, "However, we can still see the long-lasting effect of discrimination on our profession. In our increasingly diverse nation and even in our own state, the legal profession does not look enough like our society."
The State Bar Association has implemented programs to increase diversity within the association as well as the profession. This year, it will launch an association-wide mentoring initiative, co-chaired by former Court of Appeals Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and incoming State Bar president-elect Glenn Lau-Kee of New York City (Kee and Lau-Kee).
The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
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