Professor John Feerick has been named the recipient of the 2017 ABA Medal, the highest honor awarded by the American Bar Association, which will be presented to him at the ABA Annual Meeting on August 12 in New York.
The ABA Medal, first awarded in 1929, recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence and is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession.
Feerick led Fordham Law School as dean for 20 years starting in 1982. He is generally credited as one of the most influential individuals in shaping Fordham Law School into the institution it is today. His achievements included adding a wing to the Law School building, thereby increasing space by 40%; doubling applications for admission and dramatically expanding the diversity of the student body; transforming the faculty; creating the LL.M. program; starting one of the nation’s best programs in clinical legal education; and establishing the Stein Center for Law and Ethics, the Crowley Program in International Human Rights, and the Public Interest Resource Center.
A 1958 graduate of Fordham College and 1961 graduate of Fordham Law School, Feerick continues to serve as a professor at the Law School, where he is the founder and former director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice. The center brings together students and alumni of the school with other lawyers and community volunteers to extend access to justice on issues ranging from unaccompanied immigrant children to domestic violence to debtor education.
Feerick helped draft the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which celebrates its 50th anniversary of ratification this year. The amendment sets out the succession process for the U.S. presidency and establishes procedures for when the president is disabled or the office of vice president must be filled. Feerick was asked by the ABA to help draft the amendment in 1964 after he wrote an article about the gaps in presidential succession for the Fordham Law Review. His 1976 book, The Twenty Fifth Amendment, was hailed as the definitive account of the amendment’s adoption and implementation and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“Few individuals have left as deep a mark on the legal profession over the last 50 years as John Feerick,” said Mathew Diller, the dean of the Law School. “For the first 20 years of his career, John helped build one of the great law firms in our nation; for the next 20 years, he was a transformative dean at Fordham Law. While doing all of this, he has served the public through leadership in the ABA and other bar associations, led numerous public commissions addressing some of the most difficult issues in our legal system, and played a key role in drafting a critically important amendment to our Constitution. These are extraordinary accomplishments. How John has done all this is equally important; he has always placed integrity and ethics at the fore along with compassion, respect, and humility.”
ABA President Linda A. Klein said, “Professor Feerick is that rare combination of a lawyer who has had enormous achievement in public service, private practice and in legal education. He is the embodiment of the citizen lawyer. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, Professor Feerick’s contributions to that effort cannot be minimized. Throughout his distinguished career as a labor lawyer, legal educator and public servant, his unimpeachable integrity and brilliance has made him a giant in the legal community and an invaluable aide to our government and our democracy.”
Feerick’s many leadership positions have included founder of the labor and employment practice at Skadden Arps, president of the New York City Bar Association, chair of the New York State Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections, and chair of the New York State Commission on Government Integrity. He has served as a lead arbitrator and mediator for many prominent disputes involving matters such as homeless family rights, National Football League labor conflicts, and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Among previous ABA Medal recipients are legendary justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor; Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski; human rights activist Father Robert Drinan; co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William H. Gates Sr.; former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and prominent attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson.