The Right Thing To Do
“In That Further Shore, John describes his experience growing up in the South Bronx in a family of very limited means but with deep faith, great love, and hope in the future.”
This is a superb autobiography because it is an inspiring story of family and the importance of roots and a first-hand account of a remarkable series of important moments in history and John’s leadership of a great law school. But, above all, it is, to quote the words of a President whom Dean Feerick reveres, a profile in courage.
As I read the book, I was struck again and again by John’s courage in so many different settings and different ways throughout his career. He has never been afraid to speak truth to power. For example, when John was a very young lawyer, he was part of the ABA group examining presidential succession. At one session, the revered Harvard Law Professor Paul Freund opined that a commission with representatives from the different branches of government should be created to resolve questions of presidential disability. One can imagine the room of great dignitaries nodding in agreement when Freund, the preeminent constitutional law scholar of his day, offered this solution. But, then, the youngest member of the group spoke up. The 27-year-old John Feerick, a junior associate at a then small law firm, “shyly” pointed out that the proposal violated fundamental principles of separation of powers. Freund listened, and he dropped his proposal.
It is a small story, but John’s willingness to challenge a legend reflects who John is. John says and does what he knows is right, regardless of the opposition he will face. With the support of Fordham’s extraordinary president, the late Father Joseph O’Hare, he recognized Fordham Law’s first gay student rights group in the 1980s, a pioneering decision at a Catholic school. Leading three state commissions investigating corruption, he pursued reform in the face of strong opposition and personal attack. He did not rescind an invitation to speak at Fordham Law’s graduation that the school had extended to Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated for national office and a most distinguished graduate of Fordham Law, even as he was decried from pulpits across the City because of the Congresswoman’s pro-choice views. His decision in the Sprewell case was widely decried, but he thought the punishment the NBA had imposed was not justifiable. As an educator, a practicing lawyer, and as a leader of the bar, he has fought in many ways and over many decades for the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society, repeatedly battling the powerful to help homeless people, immigrants, and people without meaningful access to the legal system. Because of who he is, John is loved, but he has never been guided by a desire to be popular. He always asks, “What is the right thing to do?” And then he does it.
We live in a dark time, and we all need heroes. John Feerick is my hero. If you read this book, he will be yours.
(c) William M. Treanor
Reprinted excerpt of the entire article with permission from the “May 12, 2020 edition of the “New York Law Journal” © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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