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ABA v. Business - Media Relation

N. Lee Cooper's reply letter to a Wall Street Journal editorial

February 28, 1997

Mr. Robert Bartley
The Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty Street Journal
New York, New York 10281

Dear Mr. Bartley:

Your February 27 editorial, "ABA v. Business," is replete with inaccuracies, beginning with your labeling of the American Bar Association as having a "liberal agenda." If the ABA has an agenda, it is to protect the principles on which this country was founded, which include the right to free speech, the rights of individuals against tyranny, and the right of free enterprise. This is not a liberal agenda, it is an American agenda. At last glance it supports the goals of American business.

The facts speak for themselves. The ABA is a diverse organization whose more than 380,000 members represent all sides of the law. More than 55,000 of these members are business lawyers, and among them include the general counsels of most of America's largest corporations.

Because of the diversity of our membership the ABA is, by definition, neither pro-business nor anti-business. We take positions on specific issues, many of which you would characterize as pro-business. The ABA's driving value is to make the American system of justice better, effective, efficient and fair for all Americans.

You cite the ABA's support of NAFTA as the only "pro business" policy we have adopted. This is simply an uninformed conclusion. Policies adopted by the ABA House of Delegates include:

  • Calls for significant regulatory reform,

  • Extensive recommendations, adopted as early as 1987, to improve the tort liability system at the state level, which include limiting liability of businesses,

  • Recommendations for narrowing the civil liability provisions of the RICO statute,

  • Numerous proposals to narrow the scope and impact of federal antitrust laws,

  • Support for repeal of the retroactive liability provisions of the "Superfund" legislation,

  • Opposition to the "employer sanction" provisions of the nation's immigration laws.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence is that more than 80 percent of the recommendations in the 1991 report of the President's Council on Competitiveness -- chaired by then-Vice President Dan Quayle, and which you have frequently lauded as "pro-business" -- was policy already adopted by the ABA!

The ABA's positions are debated by lawyers representing all segments of the law -- defense and plaintiff attorneys as well as in-house counsels and business litigators -- trying to find ways to make our system of laws work better.

You also did not check your facts about the ABA's annual summit of general counsels from major businesses. This program was conceived, planned and hosted by the ABA to hear from and directly serve the needs of our general counsel members. The General Counsel conference focuses on important issues facing business lawyers, and provides a forum for exchange among corporate leaders who share issues and business challenges.

The American Bar Association believes that our country has been well served by the justice system conceived by our nation's founders. Like other human institutions, it is not a flawless system. But for all its flaws, it continues to be the system new free market democracies look to as they design their constitutions. It is in the interest of American business and Americans, generally, to have a system of justice that strives to protect individuals and institutions from the tyranny of power or the tyranny of expediency that we have seen in so many places around the world. This is the ideal to which the ABA is committed, an ideal that directly serves the goals of American business and American consumers.


N. Lee Cooper

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