American Bar Association Approves New York State Bar Association-Sponsored Resolutions on Guns, War Crimes, Legal Ethics and U.S. Territories

By Susan DeSantis

August 9, 2022

American Bar Association Approves New York State Bar Association-Sponsored Resolutions on Guns, War Crimes, Legal Ethics and U.S. Territories


By Susan DeSantis

The New York State Bar Association succeeded in getting four resolutions passed by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates at its two-day Annual Meeting Aug. 8 and 9 in Chicago.

The resolutions:

  • Call on federal, state, and local governments to give law enforcement more time to conduct background checks for firearms purchasers;
  • Urge Congress to enact laws that provide residents of the U.S. territories the same rights, liberties, and protections as citizens of the 50 states;
  • Advocate for the United Nations to determine if the Russian Federation committed war crimes in Ukraine; and
  • Reaffirm that the sharing of legal fees with non-lawyers and the ownership or control of the practice of law by non-lawyers are inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession.

Resolution 404, sponsored by the New York State Bar Association and the Virgin Islands Bar Association, declares that the “territorial incorporation doctrine” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Insular Cases in 1901 is contrary to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and civil rights jurisprudence. The New York State Bar Association launched a task force in June to examine the historically unequal treatment of the residents of the U.S. territories. The association’s Executive Committee passed a resolution in July similar to the one adopted by the ABA at its two-day Annual Meeting.  The ABA resolution urges Congress to enact legislation granting full citizenship rights to the residents of the territories.

“I am proud to take a leadership role in the efforts to establish equal rights for the people of the U.S. Territories, eliminate the territorial doctrine and finally dismantle the racism and racist notions that still exist as “good law” in the line of cases known as the Insular Cases,” said Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the New York State Bar Association, who argued in support of the resolution at the ABA meeting.

Resolution 405 calls upon the United Nations General Assembly to authorize the secretary general to establish international war crime tribunals to determine whether the Russian Federation and its officials violated international law in Ukraine. The Executive Committee of the New York State Bar Association in July approved a similar resolution proposed by the association’s International Section.

“It’s hard to imagine a more serious threat to the rule of law than Russia’s unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation,” Levin Wallach said. “The New York State Bar Association believe that support of the rule of law requires us to urge the United Nations General Assembly to establish an investigative body to determine and hear the evidence of war crimes that have taken place.”

Resolution 601 urges federal, state, local and tribal governments to enact laws to give police reasonable time to complete a background check of a gun buyer. Federal law now requires that the gun be transferred to the buyer if the background check is not completed within three business days. In 2018, 276,000 background checks were not finished within the three days, giving the gun purchaser possession of the firearm regardless of criminal history.

“This can have devastating consequences if the gun gets into the wrong hands,” Levin Wallach said. “The three-day deadline is known as the Charleston loophole because Dylann Roof, who killed the pastor and eight parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015, obtained a gun when time ran out to do his background check. If his check had been completed, his application would have been denied due to an arrest for possession of a controlled substance.”

The New York State Bar Association joins the Illinois and New Jersey state bar associations in co-sponsoring Resolution 402. The resolution reaffirms the ABA’s commitment to the law that prohibits lawyers from sharing legal fees with non-lawyers and from directly or indirectly transferring ownership or control over entities practicing law to non-lawyers.

“Lawyers are held to the highest standards of professional ethics,” Levin Wallach said. “The public must be protected from those who want to practice law free from the kind of responsibilities that ensure that a client’s interest comes first.”

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated, and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.


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