Only an independent judiciary can preserve constitutional freedoms

Commentators have expressed surprise at the election as president of the American Bar Association of a lawyer who openly opposes abortion and advocates the death penalty.

But Lee Cooper, a partner at Maynard Cooper & Gale in Birmingham, Alabama, says he wants to steer the ABA away from the social issues on which it has campaigned for so long.

He claims the body should direct its energy towards improving the justice system, which he considers is the real purpose of the organisation.

Cooper believes the ABA's long-running campaign to preserve a woman's right to abortion has cost the organisation membership and did not have a great effect on the national debate.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that we are a service organisation for attorneys,” he said.

Cooper has instead pledged his commitment to maintaining the independence of the federal judiciary. He strongly opposes the way judges have been treated by politicians.

He said: “At the moment we have a generation of 'scape judges'. President Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole are irresponsible to blame the judiciary for causing crime. Whenever politicians can utilise lawyers as whipping boys for political gain they will.”

Cooper added: “The federal judiciary must remain free from political pressure because only an independent judiciary can preserve constitutional freedoms.”

After studying law at the University of Alabama, Cooper served in the US army until 1966, when he returned to Birmingham and worked as an associate attorney for Cabaniss.

In 1974 he was invited to join the litigation section of the ABA, which he later went on to chair. He also chaired the Alabama delegation to the ABA House of Delegates, the ABA's ruling council.

Despite his outspoken social standpoint he refuses to be pigeon-holed by the media. “I won't allow myself or the ABA to be identified by political issues.

“Everyone knows my views on abortion and capital punishment, but I am also a strong supporter of access to legal services for the poor which could be described as liberal.”

As successor to the first ever female ABA president, Roberta Ramo, Cooper has pledged to further the cause of women in law.

“Roberta has become a trail blazer for women in the ABA. I will continue to encourage that.”