Seeking Input on the Future of the NLG: Letter from President Gespass

Dear Guild Members:

At the January NEC meeting, we created a "visioning committee," charged with doing strategic political planning for the Guild. Part of the impetus for the creation of the VC was a presentation by Maryland Legal Aid, which engaged in a strategic planning process with its clientele. The result was that Legal Aid adopted the human rights framework to approach its work. There was sentiment on the NEC that we too should approach its political work from the perspective of human rights.The VC had the task of seeking input from our members about how we should approach our work and decided that it would be useful to prepare a concept paper to present to the membership as a starting point.

Jeanne Mirer prepared the concept paper, which we distributed via listserv, and can be requested from the National Office at any time. We welcome any responses.

Human rights include economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights. They also include some "second generation" rights, such as environmental rights. The human rights framework holds these as indivisible. That is, they are all critical and none can be denied in favor of another. They are also largely aspirational rather than fully implemented anywhere in the world. Still, they are almost universally regarded as fundamental.

The U.S. has not ratified all the essential human rights treaties and conventions and has limited the application of those we have ratified. The VC considers these limitations unacceptable, but we note that courts have generally not given much credibility to litigation based on the conventions. We do not have agreement, nor have we discussed to any great extent, whether that means we should not make the arguments. That is something we should explore.

It is suggested that we develop an economic bill of rights, perhaps harking back to FDR or, perhaps, moving beyond the Four Freedoms. Economic rights include, for example, rights to employment, health care, food, housing and shelter. The VC is excited about the idea that we work on economic rights issues.

Some concern was expressed that the concept paper was too technical and legalistic for mass work. It would be important to address the rights not just as reflecting either binding international conventions and the technicalities of self-executing and non-self-executing treaties or of whether these rights constitute customary international law. We agree, however that we should popularize the concepts contained in the human rights conventions and the International Declaration of Human Rights. While the technical legal principles, norms and precedents can be confusing to lawyers, and certainly lay people, the rights protected and conferred by the conventions are not difficult to understand. Indeed, the more they are adopted and accepted by people, the easier it will be to institutionalize them in the courts as well.

We note that the human rights framework, because it finds such universal acceptance, has the advantage of putting economic and political systems to the test without having to use words like "capitalism" and "socialism." Rather, we can try to achieve a society that guarantees all human rights without having to label it in some way. The human rights framework is something that resonates with people and avoids labeling.

To summarize, we are proposing the use of the human rights framework as the basis for our work going forward, and we want to know if our membership agrees with that approach. Second, we want to know the priorities of our various entities within the framework. If they disagree with this approach, we want to know what they would propose in terms of how we do our work.

The ultimate goal is to build more synergy among our various entities, with each being aware of what the others are doing so that when there is overlap or the opportunity to build on the work, we don't miss the chance.


David Gespass