In the face of a mounting uproar among black attorneys, members of the legislative committee of the American Bar Association's young lawyers division have tabled indefinitely a proposal to support U.S. recognition for South Africa's "homelands" policy.
The "homelands" issue had been listed as a "priority" item by committee chairman David Short, and the decision to take it off the agenda came after intervention by the chairman of the young lawyers division, Gregory Long.
Committee members complained that they were never told about the proposal, and they stressed that it had never been approved, but only named as an issue for debate.
A committee vice chairman, Mark Bierbower of Bierbower & Bierbower here, called the proposal a "bolt out of the blue," adding that he knew of no other committee members who approved the "homelands" concept, a part of South Africa's apartheid policy of racial segregation.
Critics argue that under the "homelands" policy, blacks are being relegated to largely barren land that offers little opportunity for earning a living, although they comprise an overwhelming majority of the population.
Successive U.S. administrations have refused to recognize the "homelands."
"I didn't even know he Short planned to raise this cockamamie issue," Bierbower said. "He has brought us into areas I don't think we have any business being in. . . . The idea is preposterous."
The proposal gained considerable attention after black lawyers here, led by Hogan & Hartson's Vincent H. Cohen, began meeting to plot ways to oppose it and wrote an angry letter to ABA President John Shepard.
"I think it kind of shows that if people are vigilant, they can keep things from happening," said Cohen of the committee's decision to drop the proposal. "I think he Short finally got the message that to many black Americans and white Americans, this is a very emotional issue and they're not going to debate it. He found himself on a point with nobody else with him."
Long said he asked Short to have the committee vote on whether the "homelands" proposal should be debated after receiving numerous complaints from minority members of the ABA.
"It was time to either fish or cut bait," Long said. "It was just making more and more people unhappy."
But while Long criticized Short for "unfortunate and inappropriate language" in making the "homelands" proposal, he said he was pleased with the outcome. "I disagree that you can't discuss things, even though you might be against the point of view.