Stephen Wermiel, Fellow in Law & Government, Chairs ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities

Stephen Wermiel ’82, a fellow in law & government who teaches constitutional law and a course on the U.S. Supreme Court, has assumed a yearlong position as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR). The Individual Rights Section is committed to ensuring that the ABA stands for civil rights and civil liberties principles embodied by the Constitution and the laws of the nation.

The chair’s yearlong-tenure begins in August. Each IRR chair establishes a theme for the year, and Wermiel has titled his, “Advocating for Equality in the Next Generation.” Wermiel will conduct a yearlong series of town hall meetings at law schools throughout the country exploring how young lawyers and law students are experiencing discrimination in the profession, the legal system and other institutions in ways that may differ from previous generations. The focus of each town hall session will be a single form of discrimination, and the goal will be to have participants sharing experiences through small group breakout discussions.

As a society and as a profession, we have made progress in confronting different forms of discrimination, but bias persists in different forms,” Wermiel said. “It is important to explore whether and how the face of discrimination may be changing and what must be done to confront it, and the IRR Section is a perfect place to do that.”

The town halls begin on Wednesday, October 3 at the University of Tulsa Law School with a focus on the issues facing Native American young lawyers and law students. The second town hall will be held at AUWCL, Friday, Oct. 26 fromnoon to 2 pm and will focus on issues of gender discrimination facing young lawyers and law students. Subsequent town hall sessions will focus on discrimination based on: race, disability, sexual orientation, immigration and national origin, and religion.

Each town hall will be conducted in cooperation with local student groups, bar sections and other interested organizations. Wermiel chose law schools as the setting for the town halls to help call attention to the work of the Individual Rights Section and of the ABA for younger lawyers and students.

In addition to setting the theme for his year as chair, Wermiel works with 16 standing committees in the Individual Rights Section covering a broad range of civil rights and civil liberties issues. The committees organize panels, webinars and conferences on important and timely issues, work on reform projects in many fields, propose policy positions for consideration by the ABA and on occasion help formulate amicus briefs for the ABA to file in the Supreme Court.

Wermiel has been involved in the section for more than a decade, serving for a number of years as editorial board chair of the IRR Section quarterly magazine, Human Rights, and as co-chair of the section’s First Amendment Committee. He served as chair-elect of the section from August 2011 to August 2012 when he became chair.