In January, the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, the field of administrative law, and the legal profession more generally lost an amazing leader, mentor, and colleague with the passing of University of Nebraska Law Professor Anna Shavers.
I first got to know Anna well when I joined the governing council of the ABA Administrative Law Section in 2015, and she had just completed her one-year term as Section Chair. I had met Anna before that, and her passion for administrative law and immigration law was infectious. Not to mention her smile and laugh. I sometimes wondered whether that was just her extroverted, public presence. But as I got to know her better, I realized that passion and joy were part of the core of who she was—she sought to uplift and inspire.
And she truly was an administrative law geek. Before law school, she worked as a claims representative at the Social Security Administration (SSA) and then at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducting labor investigations and elections. Based on her experience at SSA and NLRB, she decided to go to law school, thinking she’d return to the federal government but instead ended up at Nebraska Law School as a law professor focused on administrative law and immigration law.
She was a critical leader in the ABA Administrative Law Section, serving on the council and as an officer for more than a half-dozen years as well as on various committees. She also was a leader in other ABA sections and in the Association of American Law Schools, including as Immigration Section Chair in the late 1990s. At the time of her passing, she was serving her first year as the Administrative Law Section’s Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, representing our Section’s interests in that ABA legislative body.
Her impact on the fields of administrative law and immigration law as well as on the legal profession was profound and indisputable. But for those of us who were fortunate to know her well, her personal impact on our lives was arguably more profound.
As I shared with my first-year law students shortly after Anna’s passing, the signature Shavers move was her ability to personally connect. It was the out-of-blue email or phone call to congratulate me on a publication or on my participation at a conference or other event. I know I’m not the only recipient of this signature Shavers move, as this was her reputation in the field to praise, encourage, and thank others for their contributions to the field and to her life. The same is true of our one-on-one interactions. I loved how she would always ask first how I was doing personally — how were my kids, my spouse, my law students, and me. And then she would ask what I was working on. This is something I hope to emulate and carry on from her legacy.
I’ll end with Anna’s own words, from her final ABA Administrative Law Section Chair’s Message (from the Summer 2015 issue of the Administrative and Regulatory Law News):
I am writing my final Chair’s message. At this time, each Section Chair begins to focus on the accomplishments of the Section and its members within the broad context of administrative and regulatory practice. It is not unusual to have a very personal focus in this last message. I decided to start my last message in this fashion.
My first professional introduction to administrative law was shortly after I graduated from college and began working at the Social Security Administration (SSA). I worked as a Claims Representative in Kansas City, Missouri, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I had a front-line opportunity to see how regulations were implemented, claims were adjudicated, and individual’s lives were affected. Later, after receiving a master’s degree, I went to work for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I traveled around the Midwest conducting labor investigations and elections. I also conducted some hearings. It seemed to me, however, that the attorneys in the office performed the most exciting functions. I decided to go to law school and return to the NLRB as an attorney. I thought at that point I would spend my working career as a federal government lawyer. As it happens with many law students, I was presented with other opportunities and entered private practice, but remained completely immersed in the administrative law world. Eventually, I had the great fortune to become a law professor and teach administrative law. At that point, I had the opportunity to reflect on the many facets of an administrative law practice.
Shortly after I began teaching at the University of Nebraska, I met an alum who was a member of the Section. She encouraged me to attend a meeting and get involved with the Section. Shortly there- after, I was appointed as the Chair of a Section committee. I marveled at how easy it was to get involved with the Section and play an active part. I met agency heads, policy makers, private law firm lawyers, federal and state judges, and professors I had only previously known from their books and law review articles. It was the perfect place for anyone interested in administrative law. There were robust discussions on administrative law issues and on development of resolutions that were eventually adopted by the American Bar Association (ABA). Occasionally, a sitting or future Supreme Court Justice was in attendance at a Section event. It was at a Section event where I first had the opportunity to meet and have discussions with Justices O’Connor, Scalia, and Breyer.
While the Section was very welcoming and provided opportunities to be involved and work on substantive matters, I had no idea that someday I would serve as Chair of the Section. It is perhaps even more remarkable to view this from the perspective of my early life as an African-American who grew up in the segregated South and faced many obstacles in even receiving an education. It is my hope that this little trip down memory lane will encourage Section members to assume or continue an active role in the Section and encourage others to become involved.
This message so nicely captures who Anna was as a person and leader—and who and how she inspired others to be active participants in the profession. Anna, I miss those emails, phone calls, and in person pick-me-ups. I miss your impact on the field, on the ABA, and on my life. I hope your family, friends, students, and colleagues are able to celebrate a life so well lived and find peace and comfort in your passing and lasting legacy.