Wendy Mariner Named Vice Chair of the ABA Section on Civil Rights & Social Justice

Mariner previously served on the section as secretary and a member of the section Council.

Professor Wendy Mariner, a well-known health law scholar teaching at the Boston University School of Law and the School of Public Health, was recently elected to serve as vice chair of the American Bar Association Section on Civil Rights & Social Justice.

With the unexpected passing of Chair-elect Sheila Thomas, Mariner, as vice chair, will also assume the duties of Chair-elect for the upcoming year.

“Sheila Thomas was an extraordinary lawyer and spent her legal career advocating for the rights of workers, particularly women,” says Mariner. “I hope to do justice for her and the section.”

According to the ABA, the Civil Rights & Social Justice Section fulfills its role by “raising and addressing often complex and difficult civil rights and social justice issues in a dynamic and diverse society and ensuring that the protection of human rights remains a focus of legal and policy decisions.” Mariner was chair of the health rights committee within the section, was elected to the Section Council for 6 years, and then elected secretary and served in that role for one year.

“A key reason to be involved in the ABA is that it is the voice of the legal profession,” Mariner says. “It’s important that lawyers, including academics, participate in making sure that the voices of everyone in the profession are heard, especially now when the rule of law is threatened.”

It was the mission of the section that drew Mariner to work with the group. She felt that many of the problems that the section works to address arise within health law, such as access to care, how the economic and social environment affects health outcomes and opportunity, the relationship between physicians and their patients, and biomedical research. To carry out its mission, the section enables lawyers to help make positive changes in the law.

The fact that so many civil rights are under attack today means that lawyers have a critical role to play in securing justice for everyone. “One of the reasons that the section attracts people with different areas of legal expertise is that they have an opportunity to pursue questions of justice that they don’t confront in their professional lives,” Mariner says.

Some of the committees under the Civil Rights & Social Justice Section touch on issues related to criminal justice, economic justice, racial discrimination, voting, free speech, Native American concerns, and rights of women.

Mariner feels that her involvement with this section of the ABA has enriched her legal scholarship. Working alongside lawyers from legal fields that are not necessarily her own has expanded her knowledge and helped her examine the issues that the section works to address from different perspectives.

“Studying health law exposes you to a wide range of constitutional, statutory, and common law issues that implicate civil rights and therefore even if I don’t have a particular expertise, I can appreciate the issues that are at stake,” she says.

The ABA House of Delegates has adopted many resolutions sponsored by the section. In 2018, these included urging governments to enact legislation providing employees with guaranteed paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, supporting the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender under the Affordable Care Act, and the urging governments to create legislation to prevent gender-based violence in the workplace and to provide remedies for said violence.

Mariner urges lawyers and academics to expand their vision and apply their expertise to the pressing issues in the profession as a whole. She hopes that, regardless of specialty, individuals in the legal profession will work together to help improve the lives of people by improving our legal system.

Reported by Yadira Flores (CAS’19)

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