President Susan Kohlmann’s Remarks to 2023 World Law Congress

Susan J. Kohlmann

On July 20, the City Bar co-sponsored and hosted the World Law Congress 2023, which brought together heads of state, judges, lawyers, policymakers, academics, activists and students from around the world to discuss topics including the rule of law, election law, artificial intelligence, human rights, climate change, sustainability and international arbitration. City Bar President Susan J. Kohlmann gave the following opening remarks: 

Good morning!

I’m Susan Kohlmann, President of the New York City Bar Association.

It is a great honor for the New York City Bar Association to host this 60th anniversary edition of the World Law Congress, and to welcome this remarkable assemblage of world leaders, high-court justices and friends in the legal profession from around the world.

We extend our deep gratitude to the World Jurist Association for bringing us all together, at a time when it’s never been more important for us to be together, and strategize together, and take action together, in order to bring about, as the World Jurist Association’s mission has said since its founding, “a world ruled by law, not force.”

A world ruled by law, not force.   

Many of us have been privileged enough, and comfortable enough, that those wonderful words have washed over us — until now. They land differently today after the events in Ukraine, after January 6th in this country, and after many other sad signs of the times around the world. 

A world ruled by law, not force: a simple principle, grounded in a simple, seemingly obvious choice.

And yet, at the opening session of this World Law Congress, at the United Nations in April, as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted, “Today we are fighting a great war, and this is the point: Freedom, equality, rule of law.”

Javier Cremades, President of the World Jurist Association, said in April, “The world is struggling. We really have a difficult time to promote and preserve the rule of law, even within democracies.”

I want you all to know how committed the New York City Bar Association is to preserving the rule of law and democracy. It’s in our DNA. We were founded for that very reason – in 1870, in the wake of our Civil War, to address corruption in the judiciary and create a fair system of justice.

And today, even as we work to protect the rule of law in America from the well-known threats to it over the past several years, we maintain a robust international focus, with 19 committees with international affairs as their focus, and having joined the United Nations Global Compact in support of a more socially and economically inclusive global community.

I should add that we have many international members, and we welcome all of you fellow lawyers to join and make yourselves at home here when business or pleasure brings you to New York City. 

Sixty years ago, in 1963, Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, along with American Bar Association President Charles Rhyne, inaugurated the first World Law Congress in Greece, six years after they joined with Sir Winston Churchill to found the World Jurist Association.

That same year, 1963, Chief Justice Warren stood right here, where I am standing, and spoke of the legal issues associated with desegregation efforts, while picketers carrying “Impeach Earl Warren” signs demonstrated outside these doors.

Two years later, another great man stood on this spot and addressed an overflow crowd. It was one year after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and three months before the signing of the Voting Rights Act, when Dr. Martin Luther King gave an address here entitled “The Civil Rights Struggle in the United States Today.” 

Dr. King told the lawyers who sat where you are: “Standing before you in the House of this Association, whose very cornerstone is an abiding respect for law, I am impelled to wonder who is better qualified to demand an end to this debilitating lawlessness, to better understand the mortal danger to the entire fabric of our democracy when human rights are flaunted.”

Who indeed. It’s up to us. Together. And that is why we are all here today.

Thank you all for coming and joining us as we recognize today those whose work and careers, like those of Chief Justice Earl Warren and Martin Luther King, have been dedicated to preserving the rule of law. And thank you for your engagement today in the panels addressing so many critical issues. Together, let us work for a world ruled by law, not by force. Let us, like Dr. King, demand an end to debilitating lawlessness around the world and let us, together, achieve peace through law.