The 25th annual Robert Abrams Public Service Lecture on September 30, delivered by Phil Weiser ’94, Colorado’s attorney general, marked one of the first in-person NYU Law gatherings outside a classroom since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Appropriately enough, Weiser devoted a considerable portion of his lecture to the importance of connections and community.
Robert Abrams ’63, the former New York AG for whom the lecture series is named, introduced Weiser. Noting the lecture’s anniversary, Abrams recalled how, 25 years ago, he had expressed concern to John Sexton, then NYU Law’s dean, about negative media coverage of politics and government, and suggested a speaker series featuring accomplished public servants who could inspire young law students to follow in their footsteps.
In his remarks, Weiser recalled some meaningful associations from his time at NYU Law: putting together a reading group as a 1L that included the participation of Judge Edward Weinfeld Professor of Law Vicki Been ’83; engaging in vigorous discussion with fellow students as an articles editor of the NYU Law Review; and attending the Madison Lecture delivered by Ruth Bader Ginsburg a few months before her US Supreme Court nomination. Weiser would go on to clerk for Ginsburg at the Supreme Court.
Weiser noted that as political polarization creates gridlock in Washington, DC, state AGs—in cooperation and individually—play an increasingly important role in creating positive change. He cited Colorado’s successful challenge to the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold federal law enforcement funding after the state refused to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Weiser also mentioned Colorado’s participation in lawsuits filed by multistate coalitions that have challenged the rollback of national auto emission standards, sought to penalize opioid manufacturers, and called for the enforcement of antitrust laws against Facebook and Google. “Most of what we do is work with colleagues from other states to solve problems,” he said.
Selected remarks from the event:
“The rule of law and the rigor of legal analysis binds us together. We are not operating in an environment like those in a legislature, where people might assert a supposed fact but not have the discipline to have to prove it in court, where people might take a certain position and not worry about whether there’s legal support for it. That discipline, whether it’s antitrust or consumer protection or public health, is a powerful and unifying platform that we can work with.” (video 26:39)
“How can I not appear political? What I can do is act with integrity and do work that will be transparent and that will be based on facts and rigorous legal analysis. There’s always a risk that people are going to judge that work through a political lens because I’m an elected official. My commitment is to have that integrity in how I do that work and to ask people to review the work themselves before discounting it.” (video 39:14)
“People are living in different information environments, being conditioned to demonize other people, to see themselves as being victimized, to see others as oppressors or as unworthy of respect. That is fundamentally unhealthy and dangerous to democracy. The premise of democracy is we are all citizens in a project of self-governance together, and it’s a responsibility that we all have to work together to solve problems. That has to include listening to other people.” (video 52:20)
Watch the Abrams Lecture on video:
Posted November 3, 2021