2005 Margaret Brent Award Honoree Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton

2005 Margaret Brent Award Honoree Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton


It is now my privilege to introduce our
special awardee. From time to time the Commission on Women decides to bestow an award on someone
who is not actively practicing or was actively practicing law in the United
States or someone who’s unusual public service achievements require us to honor
that person. But how does one introduce one of the most famous women in the
world? I mean, the author of, “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,” kids letters to their first
pets, the person whom her daughter, Chelsea, apparently once told the
school nurse that her mother was far too busy to be bothered, but she could call
her father. (Laughter) Well, it’s a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun. New York State Senator- New York US
senator from New York State Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton was born here in
the Chicago area right here, and early on, embraced deep religious convictions and a
sense of direct social action. An honor student at Wellesley, she was senior
class president and spent a summer in Washington, D.C. working for- are you ready
for this- the House republican conference. Her
incandescent speaking ability was evident in her historic and passionate
Wellesley commencement address, which included a line paraphrasing an [Nancy] Anne Scheibner poem, quote, “The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of
making what appears impossible, possible,” end quote. At Yale Law School, she fell in love with
Bill Clinton, and also developed an abiding interest in children’s legal
needs. After graduation, she became a staff attorney for the children’s
defense fund, but left the next year for the House judiciary committee’s legal
staff, an opportunity where she worked on the Nixon impeachment proceedings. In
1975, she married Bill Clinton and moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where both of
them taught on the University of Arkansas School of Law faculty, and I
have it on very good authority that she was the superior instructor. (Laughter) When Clinton
was elected state attorney general two years later, they moved to Little Rock,
and she joined the Rose law firm, eventually becoming its first woman
partner. By 1978, she was Arkansas’s first lady, and two years later, the mother of
Chelsea. In 1987, when the American Bar Association decided to form a commission
on women in the profession, ABA President Robert MacCrate called on Hillary Clinton
to serve as its first chair, and as our Perspectives story tells you, she
initially was hesitant about taking that post. But it was a brilliant stroke and a
boon to the ABA that she accepted. Her leadership and her consensus building
skills were visible everywhere- in conducting the nation’s first ever set
of public hearings on the status of women in the profession around the country, in shaping the resulting
report and recommendations that identified some concrete actions that
this association could take to improve the lot of women lawyers, and in assuring
its passage in the House of Delegates. She also initiated, fifteen years ago, the
Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement award, thinking that this was an appropriate
way to show the positives and to emphasize that so many people have
contributed to making this profession better. I think she was worried that that
first year nobody would come, but over 500 showed up at that moment, which was a
sell-out so it’s done pretty well since, and we appreciate the vision that
created those awards. As a candidate’s wife, and then first lady of the land, her
penchant for policy and her continuing advocacy for women and children’s rights
made her both a role model and occasionally a target. There was perhaps
no more scrutinized woman in the country. At times, she took comfort in Eleanor
Roosevelt’s quip, “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is
until she gets into hot water (Laughter). Yet amidst the occasional turbulence, she
held her family together with dignity and grace, and she even had time to write
a best-selling book, “It Takes a Village, and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.” She
even won a Grammy Award for its recording, and she was not silenced. In
her keynote at the 1995 UN women’s conference in Beijing, she spoke movingly
that, quote, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is
that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. (Applause) “Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to
speak freely and the right to be heard.” In 2000, she became another path breaker
in becoming the nation’s only first lady to win election to the Senate as a
sitting first lady and in my home state of New York. Her autobiography, “Living
History,” is another blockbuster. What lies ahead? Who knows? (Laughter) For what she has accomplished in the
law, as an advocate, in public service, and as a champion for women everywhere, we
are delighted to bestow upon her a special award today. Ladies and gentlemen,
let’s welcome, back to the ABA, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thank you. (Applause) Clinton: Thank you guys. That was really, really, wonderful. Thank you so much. (continued applause) Thank you. Thank you very much. (continued applause) Thank you very much. Thank you. (continued applause) Thank you so much, and it is such a personal
delight to be here- to be back at the ABA and especially for this luncheon and to
share this time with these extraordinary honorees, each of whom I think has given
us so much not only of themselves personally, but so much in terms of
wisdom about what we should be considering and hoping for in our nation
and in our judicial and legal systems. You know, when um, I was asked if I would be
willing to come today, it didn’t take me long to say yes, because I had so much
fun chairing the Commission with my very hearty band of commissioners, and I wanted
to express once again my appreciation to Bob MacCrate, who then was president
of the ABA, for asking me to chair the Commission when it was first established,
and persisting when I told him, “No, I really couldn’t do it, I didn’t have time,”
and he said, “Well, that’s the whole point. Young women in the law don’t have time,
and there are still so many obstacles they face and this commission, we hope,
will be a practical means of exploring some of these challenges and coming up
with solutions. So, he wore me down, and I said yes, and I have been always grateful
ever since. Then he gave me the great gift of commissioners, and I just want to
mention their names because they were just among the best that I have ever
served with in any capacity and many of them are here today. Bill Falsgraf and
Lynn Hecht Schafran and Barbara Maiden and Cory Amron, Judge Deanell Tacha, Jim
Greenfield, Brandy Thrower, Lisa Hill Fenning, Elaine Jones, Martha Barnett, and
Sandy D’Alemberte, and we were so blessed to have Elaine Weiss as our executive
director. When we- (Applause) yes, they deserve a round of applause. (continued applause) When we began our work, we thought we
should do some hearings to try to get a better sense of what was actually
happening out in the profession that was affecting women- and men – that might
explain some of the anecdotal evidence we each had in our own personal
experience about the difficulties that women still phased in 1987-1988, long
after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which did open doors and knock down barriers.
Well, those hearings- and I really commend you to the transcripts of those in the
files of the commission that Diane has so ably chaired in the past years,
because we were, I think it’s fair to say, somewhat shocked by the stories we heard.
Deanell Tacha and I were reminiscing before the luncheon, she still would make
a great Supreme Court justice by the way, (applause). We were reminiscing about how we’d hear
these stories of blatant discrimination, of the attitudinal discrimination that’s harder
to put your arms around, but often just as distressing, the extraordinary
difficulties that women faced balancing family and work, the hardships imposed
before the Family and Medical Leave Act became law in being the best lawyer one
could be in whatever role in the profession one chose, and fulfilling the
most important responsibilities to one’s family and finding a little time left for
oneself, and it was overwhelming experience and we tried to highlight
some of the challenges and then then set about looking for solutions
which were really in the realm of trying to persuade people already in power- men
and a few women- to continue to tear down these barriers and to change the
attitudes that stood in the way of utilizing the full extent of women’s
contributions to our profession. In the midst of all this, I think we began to
worry a little bit that we were going to be known as the downer commission of the
ABA because we are always holding seminars and panel discussions and, you
know, sort of lecturing and hectoring about what law firms needed to do and
corporations needed to do and how much better we could be if we only changed
our attitudes and some of our mindsets. So, Elaine Weiss was visiting me in
my law office in December of 1990, and we were talking about how we could not just
focus attention, much needed as it was, on some of the challenges that persisted in
our profession, which should, after all, lead the way in being a beacon of
equality and justice, and what could we do that would bring attention to the
success stories, and to those women pioneers who had really demonstrated
that, because of their courage, because of their persistence, there was a place in
the law for women and that the opportunities for young women were
plentiful, and that, in fact, the glass ceiling was cracking even though it may
not yet have broken. And so we hit upon the idea of an annual luncheon at the
convention to highlight these extraordinary women pioneers, and we
hoped, also, that we could, through the nominating process, find women who not only were personally
successful, but tried to bring others also along with them, especially mentoring or serving as an
example, reaching out to young women- and men- but
particularly young women. Well, when it came time to name the award, we were a
little bit stuck, because we knew it would be a very political process if we
were to pick someone either alive today, certainly, you know Justice Sandra Day
O’Connor came immediately to mind as our first Supreme Court Justice as a woman
or someone else who had served in a high position in the profession. And I was
just wondering, “Well, who was the first woman lawyer?” I certainly didn’t learn that
when I was in school as a young girl. It was not in my history books, as far as I
can remember. So we did the research, and came upon this extraordinary woman,
Margaret Brent. You’ve already heard something about her, and there’s a longer
description of her career in Perspectives, but I was struck, because I
had been a litigator, that she appeared in provincial court 124 times between 1642 and 1650, and she never lost. So it seemed to us, (applause) that she was for all kinds of reasons, including
the fact that she was the first woman lawyer that we are at all aware of in our
then colonies and in the history of our country, that this award would bear her
name. Well, in the fifteen years since we
started, there have been just extraordinary moments where women like
the ones you’ve heard from today, who, not only are successful by any standard, but
never have forgotten that it isn’t just success that matters. It’s what you do
with that success, it’s the qualities you bring to the journey that you make, it’s
your willingness to be committed to the principles that set us apart from so
many other societies and our constant struggle to perfect our union and to
provide a platform and environment for more and more of our children to live up
to their God-given potential, and so this luncheon became a wonderful opportunity
and celebration every single year for the ABA. Coming back is, for me, a special
pleasure. It was not only a great honor to serve as the first chair of the
Commission and to do the work with my commissioners and with the leadership
and staff of the ABA, with whom we served, but to see the Commission continue, and
the work that it has done in succeeding years, reminding us, prodding us, raising
our expectations about what we are capable of, has been very rewarding to
watch. I share the concerns of some of the others who have spoken already that
we can never lose sight of the continuing challenges we face in our
society, and that, there is no group of people who share a greater
responsibility to ensure that we live up to our highest ideals then
our lawyers. Obviously the Bar and the profession have a lot to do with how we
structure ourselves, how we govern ourselves, but it also is fair to say
that the standards by which we make decisions, publicly and privately, how we
order our relationships among one another, are due in large measure to
decisions that many in this room and many, many more like you, and every walk
of life make on a daily basis. The rule of law is one of the greatest gifts that,
I think, we were given, and that we have passed on, not only to generation after
generation of Americans, but to people throughout the world. Respecting the law, realizing that it
must apply fairly and equitably, using the law not as a tool to oppress and
demean, but as a means to lift up and aspire. I sometimes worry today that the
voices of those who are on the front lines fighting the battles making sure
that equal justice under law is not just a slogan but a reality, are not as loud
as they should be, not as vigorous in standing up to power as they need to be.
We have many challenges before us as a nation. Reinvigorating our commitment to
our basic ideals is one of the most important obligations we in the legal
profession have. I’m privileged now to serve in the United States senate, and
every day, much of what I struggle with is how we
define ourselves going forward as a nation. Who are we as Americans in the
21st century? How do we illustrate, exemplify the ideals and values that so many of us believe are at
the root, not only of our personal success, but of our national achievements.
So I am grateful that the ABA is not only still around, but still active, still
willing to debate these issues, still trying to speak truth to power, hoping that there will be those who
listen and respond. There are very different, and even opposing views about
what our Constitution means in today’s world. What legal structures are best
suited for us to continue to offer opportunity and provide fairness in a
level playing field, and your voices are absolutely essential in the debates that
we are having. I loved being a full-time lawyer, now I’m not able to go into a
courtroom, but I try to remember the techniques and the lessons that I learned
in law school and in my legal career as I advocate for and defend those values
and principles that I think are essential for America’s future, just as
they have been for our past. And so, I am grateful that this luncheon is
celebrating its 15th anniversary. That the women who have been honored are
really examples for everyone, women and men alike, that their words and
their deeds should spur us on to be even more committed to opening doors and
clearing away obstacles and barriers to individual opportunity, and that this
could not have happened anywhere else in our country accept at the ABA, and it could not have happened in any
other country except for our. So let us recommit ourselves to ensuring that
future generations of girls and boys will hold dear all of the values and
ideals that we believe in and will be able to participate as fully as their
hard work, their commitment, and their dreams can take them within a society
and a legal system that keeps pushing us to be better tomorrow than we are today.
Thank you all very, very much.

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