Carolyn Lamm, 2009-10 ABA President

Here is more from our May interview with ABA then-President Carolyn Lamm, including her comments about SB1070. We’ll post the conclusion of our interview tomorrow.

Me: In regard to Arizona’s new immigration law, 1070: This morning, there is a statement on the Equal Justice conference website. It is very straightforward, and is very critical of the law. [NOTE: The statement, by ABA’s Committee Counsel, Steven B. Scudder, is no longer on the ABA’s website.] What is the ABA’s position?

Carolyn Lamm: The ABA’s policy that was passed by the House of Delegates—and that’s what we advocate until there’s a new policy—doesn’t specifically refer to this law. What it refers to is the federal enforcement of immigration laws. And that’s what we prefer. We don’t prefer, and in fact oppose, state law enforcement of immigration laws. So this falls within our general policy.

Further, we adopted at our most recent meeting—again, before this law, nothing is specifically focused on this law—a whole series of resolutions that are meant to advocate due process in the adjudication system. They really flow from our 500-page report that I mentioned.

So we don’t have anything specifically on this law. This law falls within the context of our past policy. Our former resolution focuses more on the pre-emption issue, of course.

We obviously condemn in substance the law because it doesn’t coalesce with what our policy is.

Me: At this morning’s breakfast, you talked some about the possible enforcement side of 1070, saying problems may or may not flow from the enforcement.

Lamm: That’s right. I could see equal protection issues if some of our citizens were being arrested or detained on the basis of the way they look. That’s an issue.

Me: But some groups and individuals have said that the law on its face is problematic.

Lamm: There are always differing views on constitutionality, which is why we have courts and a Supreme Court to sort these things out. And there is a view of the law that one could take that there are substantive due process issues and potential equal protection issues because of the way the classes are defined, basically.

Me: Is there a possibility that the ABA House will speak to that?

Lamm: Nothing has been raised so far. But state bars can put in resolutions at any time. I’ve heard about a lot of proposals but I haven’t seen anything.

Me: Do you think it’s possible that in 10 years, say, the ABA leadership will be sorry that they didn’t speak to larger issues?

Lamm: What issues?

Me: Racial profiling.

Lamm: We do have a policy on opposing laws that have racial profiling.

Me: But when you look specifically at the Arizona law, how does a police officer determine immigration status by looking at someone? How does reasonable suspicion arise except in a way that implicates racial profiling?

Lamm: That’s right, that’s right. I can’t understand what it would mean.

We have problems with local enforcement of immigration laws. We have problems with racial profiling. So I don’t know how this law would pass muster, and that’s why I issued the statement that I issued. My first statement was very strong about it. And while reasonable minds can differ, my view is, as the law is, it is objectionable.

Me: You heard some comments about the law from legal leaders at this morning’s breakfast. Were they similar to others you’ve received?

Lamm: I have gotten comments from all ends of the spectrum. We have 400, 000 members. There are those who say this is terrible, this ought to be condemned, people ought to be indicted, this is hideous, you’ve got to boycott.

And I have ones on the other side saying this must be done, we must support it. And you’ve got some in the middle. You can’t make choices just on the basis of what one set said. I have to balance the views of all members and then make a balanced call in light of our existing policies.

Me: I want to ask you about another risk. If you as the ABA President routinely sit in rooms like you did this morning and ask for views about 1070, and no one in those rooms will ever be at risk of being one of those people who will be stopped by law enforcement and asked to provide their ID and immigration status, are you getting a full enough picture to make a balanced decision?

Lamm: I don’t know. It’s very hard. The people at the breakfast are all leaders in the bar, leaders in their opinion community. They have to take a relatively balanced view.

And when I hear from many of the dissatisfied groups that represent the immigrant groups or whatever, I have a lot of empathy for what they’re saying. But they’re not necessarily in the same position as the other groups I’m hearing from, or in the same group as my members, whom I have to reflect as well. When I’m a spokesperson for the organization, I have to stay within the confines of our policy; I can’t go out and make policy.

Me: This morning, you also spoke about demonstrations and protests. What is your opinion about those?

Lamm: Maybe I’m jaded living in Washington, but I’m not sure what demonstrations and protests achieve. Obviously they evidence frustration from a certain population, but being the leader of the organized bar, we tend to solve our disputes in court. And we try to persuade judges that some actors, some law, is legal or illegal and should be invalidated. That’s why we have a justice system. It can’t be that the way the leaders of the bar, the advocates in court, go out to the streets, unless you’ve lost everything, you’ve lost in every forum, and it’s a complete frustration and it’s the only way to save the rule of law. But I don’t think we’re close to there yet.

Me: But when you look back at American history, at the Selma marches, or Martin Luther King Jr. at the Washington Memorial, they certainly were important strategic turning points.

Lamm: Yes, but let’s look at that. The courts had failed. The courts had said, “Separate is equal.” The courts said you can have segregation, and we did. And they weren’t listening. We’re not there yet in the law. If this goes to court and all of the legitimate arguments are made, and the court says, “Oh, yeah, racial profiling is fine, without any evidence or rational basis,” then of course. Perhaps that’s when you have to vocalize.

Me: An organization named FAIR provided this law draft to Arizona, and is doing the same to states nationwide. Does it concern the ABA that a law may be farmed out across the country?

Lamm: Again, I may be jaded by Washington, but that’s the way the system works. You have advocacy groups pushing their views of the laws, and legislators have to look at it and decide that’s right or that’s not right.

Tomorrow: The conclusion of our interview with President Lamm, when she discusses the crisis in legal services for the poor and middle class.