Senator Blumenthal Honored at Thanks- giving Luncheon
By Bennette D. Kramer
Luncheon Chair David Brodsky called the attendees at the Federal Bar Council Thanksgiving Luncheon to order. Following lunch, Brodsky introduced George Yankwitt, chair of the Council Nominating Committee, who presented newly elected officers and members of the boards of the Federal Bar Council and Federal Bar Foundation. Yankwitt then introduced Vilia Hayes, the newly elected president of the Council.
Hayes thanked her family and Council staff. She then introduced herself, saying that Southern District Judge Charles Brieant, for whom she had clerked, had encouraged her to join the Council. She was drawn to the collegial relationships between judges and lawyers and the efforts the members put into CLE programs, the Inn of Court, and the Public Service Committee. Hayes wants to keep the Council growing and expanding during her tenure as president. She also wants to enhance pro bono activities.
Hayes introduced President Emeritus Robert Anello. Hayes said the Council appreciated all that Anello had accomplished during his tenure as president. He expanded the scope of the Council and created new committees, including the Committee on Sentencing and Incarceration, the Criminal Practice Committee, the Bankruptcy Committee, and the Intellectual Property Committee. Hayes thanked Anello for his service to the Council and presented him with a commemorative award.
Anello said that it had been a pleasure to be Council president. Through the Council, lawyers build bonds with the judiciary. Anello thanked Brodsky for chairing the luncheon, his friends, law partners, and wife for their support of him during his tenure as president and he gave a special thank you to the Council’s staff. He said that Hayes will be a fine leader. She is chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Hughes Hubbard and provides support to an HIV/Aids clinic at Belleview. Hayes was one of the original organizers of the Fall Retreat and has served as chair of the Winter Bench and Bar Conference.
In the past year, Anello explained, the Council has experienced a budget surplus and grown membership by 15 percent. Anello also noted that he had overseen expansion of Council committees and the participation of the Council in pro bono activities intended to meet the needs of the community. In October, the Federal Bar Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary with a reception during which the first Justice Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service was presented to Alan Schoenfeld of Wilmer Hale. The Public Service Committee presents opportunities for members to participate in pro bono activities. As part of a pilot program, lawyers assisted pro se litigants during the discovery phase of lawsuits and lawyers gave non-citizens immigration deportation assistance. Anello observed that the Council also set up a two year fellowship at the Immigrant Justice Corps, funded by the Federal Bar Foundation.
Emory Buckner Award
Anello congratulated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch on her nomination as Attorney General of the United States. He then presented the Emory Buckner Award for outstanding public service to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Anello explained that Senator Blumenthal was born and raised in Brooklyn and had a distinguished career. His parents worked hard and demonstrated concern for others. Senator Blumenthal’s father was an immigrant from Germany who established a trading company. His mother was a social worker from Nebraska. Senator Blumenthal graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude. Shortly thereafter, he became an assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and then an assistant to President Richard Nixon. He graduated from Yale Law School with Hillary and Bill Clinton and clerked in the Ninth Circuit for Judge John T. Noonan and in the Supreme Court for Justice Harry Blackmun.
Senator Blumenthal became the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. In private practice, he volunteered with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and tried capital cases.
He began his political career when he was elected to the Connecticut House in 1984, and to the Connecticut Senate in 1987.
Senator Blumenthal then was elected Attorney General of Connecticut and served five terms. The Attorney General’s Office handled 50,000 cases a year to protect the rights of the citizens of Connecticut. Senator Blumenthal was the leader of the lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
In 2011, Senator Blumenthal was sworn in and began serving in the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, he has worked to protect the environment, for veterans, and against animal cruelty and domestic violence. He has been the leader in drafting legislation to reduce gun violence and to restrict high capacity magazines.
In accepting the award, Senator Blumenthal thanked Anello for his service to the Council. He congratulated Hayes and thanked Brodsky for chairing the luncheon. He also congratulated his friend David Schaefer, the President-Elect of the Council, and Loretta Lynch on her nomination to be attorney general.
Senator Blumenthal said that the honor of receiving the Emory Buckner award was extraordinary for him. Two of the past recipients have been his mentors, Abe Ribicoff and Moynihan. He noted that Moynihan, who was not a lawyer, was famous for saying that “everyone is entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Senator Blumenthal said that one problem in Washington today was that everyone seems to have wildly different ideas of what the facts are, which leads to a resistance to compromise and a resulting lack of compromise.
This lack of compromise has a negative impact on our justice system, most visibly in the failure to fill judicial vacancies. Before the Senate changed the rules, there were 100 judicial vacancies; at the time of the luncheon, there were 60 unfilled vacancies. These vacancies affect the judicial system, Senator Blumenthal said.
The lack of compromise also has had an impact on the reform of the intelligence surveillance system and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Senator Blumenthal noted that the reform program that failed to pass was intended to make the court more transparent and accountable. Senator Blumenthal had written a provision into the bill to include an advocate for constitutional rights, which had been endorsed by President Obama and civil liberties groups. People on both sides of the political spectrum had supported it. The failure of the bill to receive 60 votes – it received 58 votes – affects the judicial system and the fairness of intelligence and surveillance oversight, Senator Blumenthal said.
The lack of compromise also affects our justice system in other ways: in immigration courts, undocumented immigrants remain in detention far from their families, often without representation, for an average of 50 days while waiting for their cases to be resolved; veterans wait from 19 to 60 days for mental health care; and veterans denied disability claims wait an average of 1,041 days for the appeals board because of its extraordinary workload. Senator Blumenthal vowed to continue fighting for justice for veterans.
Senator Blumenthal concluded by stating the Emory Buckner award had a special meaning for him because it came from people who care about the justice system.