August 2022 Bar Bulletin
Thanks to everyone who has shared warm wishes with me over the last few weeks. I am grateful and humbled.
A few weeks into this role, I’m trying to get a handle on the issues in front of us and anticipate what’s up ahead. As I write this, we are preparing for our upcoming board retreat. I hope to tell you about that in my next column.
In the meantime, the various decisions coming out of the U.S Supreme Court continue to dominate our newsfeeds as well as outlets and our collective thoughts. The most significant one, of course, is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which led to the overturning of the 1973 landmark case, Roe v. Wade. The ruling ended federal protection of abortion rights in the U.S. as we know them, handing regulation back to the states, about 26 of which have moved or are likely to ban the procedure.1
As a woman and mother to two daughters I find the Dobbs ruling a troubling condemnation of gender equity in this country. As a lawyer, my thoughts have been swirling since the decision was handed down, mostly revolving around this existential question: If an established precedent such as Roe can be so radically dismantled, what then of other rights protected under the due process clause of the 14th amendment, such as same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, and the right to contraception? We don’t have to be constitutional law scholars to recognize the vulnerability of such protections and what this all means for legal jurisprudence in the future.
We are fortunate to live in a state where that right, at least for now, is not only protected and codified in state law but where state lawmakers also, recognizing the vulnerability of Roe, took steps in March to fortify it.2 State law now prohibits the criminalization of any pregnancy outcome and the penalization of people for assisting those who are pregnant or seeking abortions. Additionally, Washington recently teamed up with California and Oregon to launch a “multi-state commitment”3 to what state leaders call “reproductive freedom.”4 Officials in the three West Coast states have vowed to offer their states as safe havens for people seeking abortions and to protect patients and doctors “against efforts by other states to export their abortion bans to our states.”
National abortion access in the wake of Roe is currently a patchwork of rights. It has been reported that more than a quarter of the nation’s abortion clinics could shut their doors in the weeks and months ahead as the effects of the Roe decision play out. Still, the full impact of the high court’s decision likely won’t be known for some time yet.
The question now before us is what can KCBA lawyers do to prepare for the legal issues that are sure to emerge from all this?
Considering the changing civil liberties landscape of the country, my predecessor, Dr. Kaustav Das, had begun discussions around reviving our Pro Bono Committee. At present, we do not have one. It is my hope that we can continue those conversations.
We know that both international and domestic issues can affect us locally and require the help of local lawyers. The breadth of expertise and wisdom among our members is remarkable. In light of the legal challenges confronting our country today, it is important we have a mechanism by which KCBA members can effectively and efficiently assist in situations where they have expertise.
KCBA is a champion when it comes to pro bono efforts. With the leadership of Judy Lin and Edmond Witter, other KCBA staff members, and KCBA volunteer lawyers, KCBA pro bono programs5 have been a cornerstone of our community. Whether it is the Housing Justice Project (though, now with the right to counsel, HJP is doing so much more); the long-standing neighborhood legal clinics, the Kinship Care Solutions Project, and more, there are already many opportunities for our members to make a difference.
But as new and trending problems emerge, we don’t have a quick way to respond.
Still, the revival of the Pro Bono Committee requires a thoughtful approach with dedicated and committed volunteers to engage, envision, and lead. Let me know if this resonates with you and if you have thoughts on what our role should be in this new era of eroding rights.