Visits to members of Congress focused on legal services and judicial resources
This year’s ABA Day in Washington, the association’s annual lobbying event, drew more than 350 bar leaders from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands to the nation’s capital April 16-18 to advocate on issues of importance to the legal profession.
The three-day event, now in its 17th year, is coordinated by the association’s Governmental Affairs Office and cosponsored by the National Conference of Bar Presidents, the National Association of Bar Executives, the ABA Section Officers Conference and the ABA Young Lawyers Division.
Participants focused their efforts on the following core issues during visits with their representatives and senators.
Legal Services Corporation. The need for legal services for low-income individuals is outstripping the federal funding that LSC grantees currently receive to maintain 134 legal aid programs that support 900 offices across the country. More than 61 million Americans are eligible for civil legal assistance, but limited resources prevent LSC grantees from responding to more than half the eligible individuals who seek assistance. Current LSC funding is $358 million, and the ABA is asking Congress to appropriate $430 million in fiscal year 2014 – the amount requested in the president’s proposed budget.
Judicial Vacancies. The persistently high number of judicial vacancies on the Article III courts is of great concern to the ABA. There have been 75-100 vacancies (an average of 10 percent) in the federal courts most of the past four years. The high vacancy rate affects the ability of the courts to assure timely justice, and the ABA Day participants urged the Senate to work with the administration to shorten the time between vacancy and nomination, especially for vacancies classified as “judicial emergencies.”
Federal Court Funding. Sequestration has reduced the federal judiciary’s fiscal year 2013 budget by almost $350 million, resulting in a reduction in services and the layoff or furlough of thousands of court staff. Courthouses are being forced to cut back their hours and defer consideration of cases. The ABA is urging Congress to protect the federal judiciary from future deficit reduction and restore funding for fiscal year 2014 to no less than the courts’ pre-sequestration fiscal year 2013 level.
Immigration. Another issue addressed by some of the ABA Day participants is the loss of many basic due process protections in the immigration detention and adjudication system. They urged members of Congress to enact legislation that would provide appointed counsel, if necessary, to children and the mentally disabled and to expand the Legal Orientation Program providing detainees with basic legal information.
In addition to face-to-face meetings with their senators and representatives, attendees honored the following members of Congress with Justice Awards for their support for issues of critical importance to the ABA and the administration of justice: Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
The 2013 Grassroots Advocacy Awards went to William K. Weisenberg of Ohio and Kevin L. Shepherd of Maryland.
Weisenberg, a relentless advocate for Ohio lawyers through his work at the Ohio State Bar Association, serves on the ABA Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs and the ABA Day Planning Committee.
Shepherd, a partner at Venable LLP, was recognized for his work to protect lawyers and clients from unnecessary government regulation and to promote best practices to fight money laundering. He chairs the ABA Task Force on Gatekeeper Regulation and the Profession.