Mary Smith is first Native American to become ABA president-elect nominee
Mary Smith accepted her nomination remotely, telling the ABA House of Delegates that it took not just a village but also a tribe to set her on her path toward the ABA presidency.
Mary Smith of Illinois is the ABA’s next president-elect nominee. It became official after the House of Delegates’ Nominating Committee voted to select Smith on Sunday and presented her nomination to the full House of Delegates during the 2022 ABA Midyear Meeting on Monday.
Smith, vice chair and partner at the Veng Group in Chicago, is virtually assured to become the president-elect at the close of the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago in August, when the current president-elect, Deborah Enix-Ross, assumes her position as president for the 2022-2023 term. Smith would then serve as ABA president for the 2023-2024 term.
In her address to the House of Delegates, Smith reflected on how much has changed in the world since the last in-person midyear meeting in Austin, Texas, in 2020.
“It seems like eons ago,” said Smith, who is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and set to become the first Native American president of the ABA. “Our profession has changed. The way we work has changed. We have learned how to do virtual. Our morning commute now is walking from our bedroom to our home office.
“And the way we conduct this House—we didn’t used to have any devices. Now we have two devices. Despite these changes, one thing has remained constant. That is the values we stand for.”
Smith asked House members to think about when they went to law school. For her, she said, she remembers wanting to make a difference and wanting to be a member of the ABA.
“Well, I am even more proud today to be a member of the American Bar Association because as members of this great association, we are part of something bigger than ourselves,” Smith said. “We improve the profession. We advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. We advocate for the rule of law. And as lawyers, we help people.”
Smith said she would be remiss if she didn’t mention the ongoing threats to democracy—and the role that lawyers have to play to protect it—but added that she feels optimistic about “our profession, this association and, most importantly, the work that we will do together.”
“I am speaking to you from Chicago, and aside from being my hometown and the headquarters of our great association, Chicago is also the traditional home of many tribal nations,” Smith told the House. “So we honor the indigenous peoples that call this place home, past, present and future. And in addition to honoring the traditions and legacy of indigenous peoples, we also recognize that there’s a current vibrant Native American community in Chicago of about 75,000 people. So we honor those, as well.”
Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2022 ABA Midyear Meeting here.
Smith also acknowledged the work of Lucian Pera, a former ABA treasurer and partner in Adams and Reese’s Memphis, Tennessee, office. Pera and Smith ran a contested race for the nomination as president-elect.
Smith served as ABA secretary from 2017 to 2020 and on the ABA Board of Governors for a total of seven years. She was also a member of the House of Delegates and has been active in the Section of Litigation, Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and Commission on Women in the Profession.
She is a past president of the National Native American Bar Association and founder of the National Native American Bar Association Foundation. She served as principal deputy director of Indian Health Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Her previous roles include special counsel and estate trust officer in the Office of the Special Deputy Receiver in Chicago, general counsel in the Illinois Department of Insurance and counselor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
Smith worked in the White House from 1997 to 2001, serving as associate counsel to the president and as associate director of policy planning for the Domestic Policy Council.
The House of Delegates’ Nominating Committee also selected two other candidates for ABA leadership who were running unopposed Monday.
Palmer “Gene” Vance II, a member in the Lexington, Kentucky, office of Stoll Keenon Ogden, will become chair of the House of Delegates for the 2022-2024 term. He is a longtime member of the House of Delegates and a past chair of the Section of Litigation.
Frank “Fritz” Langrock, a partner in the Middlebury, Vermont, office of Langrock Sperry & Wool, will become treasurer-elect for the 2022-2023 term. He has served on the ABA Board of Governors and in the House of Delegates and is chair of the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.
Nominating Committee hears from candidates seeking future leadership roles
The House of Delegates Nominating Committee hosted a forum for candidates seeking future nominations as president-elect and secretary of the ABA on Sunday.
William Bay of St. Louis is running unopposed for president-elect for the 2023-2024 term. A partner at Thompson Coburn, Bay served as chair of the House of Delegates from 2018 to 2020. He is the co-chair of the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, as well as a past member of the Board of Governors and past chair of the Section of Litigation.
Marvin Dang, the managing member of the Law Offices of Marvin S.C. Dang in Honolulu, is also running unopposed for secretary for the 2023-2026 term. He serves on the Board of Governors and in the House of Delegates. He is a past chair of the Senior Lawyers Division.
The Nominating Committee will consider Bay and Dang at the 2023 ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans.
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