Jerome J. Shestack, ‘Ambassador For Human Rights to the World,’ Receives 2006 ABA Medal
CHICAGO, June 14, 2006 – Jerome J. Shestack of Philadelphia of the law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, has been selected to receive the 2006 American Bar Association Medal. The ABA Medal is the highest recognition the association confers, and honors individuals who have rendered exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American jurisprudence.
“Jerry Shestack’s contributions span many fields and have taken place in settings too numerous to recount, but perhaps they can best be encompassed by understanding him as an ambassador for human rights throughout the world,” said ABA President Michael S. Greco in announcing the selection.
“Where individuals have suffered, Jerry has helped them. His tireless efforts have served not just American jurisprudence, but truly have served the world,” Greco said. “Jerry’s career has been marked by a deep and passionate commitment to justice, to the advancement of the legal profession and to the promotion of individual rights and civil liberties through the rule of law.
“From the time before he became a lawyer in 1949 through this day, Jerry has committed his professional life and his substantial personal skills to the service of those who are vulnerable or unable to protect their interests. He has championed the causes of women, of ethnic minorities, of those with mental disabilities, of political prisoners, of the poor, of people unable to access legal counsel, of religious minorities, of those in need of legal champions in the United States or in the far corners of the world, and many others. He is a worthy recipient of the association’s highest honor.”
Greco will present the medal on Aug. 7, during the meeting of the ABA’s House of Delegates at the 2006 ABA Meeting in Honolulu.
Previous recipients of the ABA Medal have included United States Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor; Erwin Griswold, former Harvard Law School dean and Solicitor General of the United States; and George Wharton Pepper, a former U.S. senator.
Shestack’s first civil rights challenge was support of admission of women students at Harvard Law School, a goal realized shortly after his 1949 graduation. From that time forward, he was committed to civil and human rights for all individuals and groups.
He was appointed as Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He is credited with spurring U.S. leadership within the U.N. commission and with helping to create the first “human rights bloc” in U.N. history. He focused international attention on the plights of Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and was instrumental in establishing a Working Group on Disappearances, to investigate and report on cases arising in Central and South America.
Also on the international level, Shestack is a past president of the International League for Human Rights. He was a co-founder and chair of the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, chair of the International Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Human Rights and a counselor of the American Society of International Law.
In the domestic sphere, Shestack was a founding member and the first executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, convened by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He helped organize and chaired the ABA Individual Rights Section in 1970-71, creating committees to support the rights of women and of native Americans, and successfully leading efforts to have the ABA endorse key human rights treaties. He also led seminal efforts to involve law firms in activities to provide volunteer lawyer services to the poor. He was the first chair of the ABA’s Commission on the Mentally Disabled. He also chaired the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and served on the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary
Shestack was president of the American Bar Association in 1997-98. He focused on increasing professionalism within the bar, established a high level commission to review and revise the bar’s model code of ethics, and initiated a pay-to-play ethical rule. He convened the first ABA conferences on racism and mental health and the first ABA Conference on Human Rights at the U.N., established relations with the All China Lawyers Association and led a team to Rome to help in the creation of the International Criminal Court. Currently, he is co-chair of the ABA Human Rights Center, which coordinates the ABA’s human rights activities. He is a voluminous writer, who has written more than 200 law journal and editorial page articles on human rights and other subjects.
Shestack is a World War II veteran, having served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and of Harvard Law School, and has taught at the Law Schools of Northwestern, Louisiana State University, the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers. He is a former first deputy city solicitor in Philadelphia, and has been in private practice in Philadelphia, first with Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, LLP, and since 1991 with Wolf, Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen, where he has chaired the firm’s litigation practice. He has argued more than 150 cases in appellate courts around the nation, and is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Shestack’s wife, Marciarose, was a leading television news anchor and newspaper columnist. They have two children and four grandchildren. The Shestacks are active in Cure Autism Now, the nation’s leading non-federally funded organization supporting medical research on autism, founded by their son and daughter-in-law who have an autistic child.
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.